There is a story of a Zen Master who was visiting New York. One evening he was due to speak at a meeting. He went into the subway system of New York with his host, a native New Yorker. A train arrived, and the Zen Master went to board it, but his host said ‘No, not this one: there is a faster train, an express, coming through in a few minutes, and that’ll save us a quarter of an hour.’

They took the express train and eventually arrived at their station. They got out and went up into the street. The host, walking towards the meeting-place was surprised to realise suddenly that he was on his own. He looked around, and saw the Zen Master sitting in a park a couple of hundred metres behind him. He hurried back and said to the Zen Master ‘What are you doing?’

The Zen Master replied ‘I’m spending the fifteen minutes that we saved.’

As I write these notes the train line between Melbourne and Bendigo has been ripped up in preparation for the Very Fast Train project. The road system around Sunbury is jammed because the work on the rail track has closed a major level crossing. More than a billion dollars, and millions of hours of time, are being poured into this project, which, according to the Liberal Party, will reduce travelling time on the Bendigo line by an average of two and a half to four and a half minutes per trip.

One of the obvious traps with technology is the tendency to go crazy with it, but this knowledge should not stop us from exploring it and assessing it and using it to enhance our lives.

It is commonly believed that the Amish in North America have closed the door on all technology and continue a way of life that has been unchanged since the foundation of the group in the 17th century. This is far from the truth. The Amish attitude to technology is to evaluate everything that comes along, and then decide what they will embrace and what they will shun. ‘… the Amish value simplicity and self-denial above comfort, convenience and leisure. So they try to discern the long-range effects of an innovation before deciding whether to adopt it. Early in the 20th century, the large majority of Amish leaders agreed that connecting powerlines would not be in the interest of their communities. They did not make this decision because they thought electricity was evil in itself, but because easy access to it could lead to many temptations and the deterioration of church and family life. For similar reasons, the Amish refused to own cars.’

The Amish do not regard anachronism as a virtue in itself. Nearly all Old Order Amish today use some kind of washing machine. Nearly every Amish community permits the use of gas or diesel engines to pump water. Only the most conservative Amish groups still use iceboxes, whilst sewing machines are almost universally used, though they are powered by foot treadles. I have been in an Amish hardware store which had a modern electronic cash register, but battery powered.

It is important for us to remain in control of our own lives. But at the same time it’s good to look forwards, to investigate new technologies, to evaluate whether they will enhance our society. Teaching technology is not just about teaching the use of computers. It is also about microwaves, vacuum cleaners, bicycles, gameboys, chainsaws, telephones and cars.

But it is also about values.

We want students who leave here at the end of their secondary education to be able to ride bicycles and motorbikes, maintain and service bicycles and cars, use a vacuum cleaner effectively, shop for, prepare, cook, serve, and clear up after quite sophisticated meals, use a computer to do research on the internet or word processing or play games, maintain and operate chainsaws and lawnmowers, burn a DVD or download music from the net, use a sewing machine and a washing machine, use pumps and whipper snippers…

Students should be comfortable and confident with technology, but able to tell the difference, in terms of values and moral worth, between an automatic climate-control device for propagating seedlings, and a battery powered tooth flosser.