Olivia’s German teacher is fond of telling her students how things are much more efficient in Germany than elsewhere. This assertion stands in stark contrast to the significant technological gap that I have noticed between Germany and the U.S. Routine transactions are less likely to be automated here, whether it be communication of grades for students or information about the status of my German citizenship application (after sending two inquiries by email and waiting for three weeks I finally received a response by snail mail!). Some teachers at the John F. Kennedy School prefer not to even use email.
When I’m not grumbling in frustration, I’ve wondered if such “backwardness” reflected German inadequacy or might in fact be intentional. It could be a bit of both, but I suspect that some conscious decisions have been made to keep things on a more personal level here. On my daily U-Bahn and S-Bahn rides I see very few hand-held technological devices. With the exception of the ever-popular iPod, I rarely see anyone on a laptop, sending a text message or otherwise trying to tap in to the electronic world. And I hardly ever see anyone on a computer in the cafes of Berlin. The one exception is Starbucks, but whoever goes there for coffee (not me!) may not best represent German culture.
True, an iPhone costs quite a bit more in Germany than the U.S. but I think there’s more than money involved here. People make more time for leisure and idle conversation and are in less of a hurry than in the U.S. This is a generalization, and one that has been made before, but it is worth bringing up at a time when Americans seem to have reached new heights in their obsession with techno gadgetry. As American reporters cover the mental and psychological consequences of our technology addictions, we need to ask ourselves how far ahead we really are. Germany’s economy is doing quite well and Germany is ahead of the U.S. in exports (2nd only to China!). So what if they lag behind the U.S. in implementing the latest electronic efficiencies.