Throughout history, people have always worked to advance mankind as a whole. From the invention of the wheel to the creation of the cellphone, technological advancements have always been a part of human civilization. It is this advancement that has brought us to where we are today, with all our tools and toys. As people make new discoveries and create new inventions, civilization changes, but are all these changes really as good as they sound?
How Has Technology Changed Our World?
There is no doubt in most people's mind that technology has, overall, increased our quality of life. Advancements in the medical field have turned many illnesses into minor inconveniences rather than the life-threatening ailments they once were, allowed us to replace and possibly even replicate entire working organs, and extend the human lifespan.
The invention of the household computer put the world at our fingertips -- endless information and countless new people to meet (and new perspectives to hear), without ever leaving home.
Then the smart phone took all that information and allowed us to take it everywhere with us. In the past, if your car broke down in the middle of nowhere, you were at the mercy of complete strangers; with mobile phones, we are able to call for help almost anywhere.
Debit and credit cards eliminate the need to carry cash, which can be easily lost or stolen with no hope of ever getting it back. If your cards are lost or stolen, a quick call to the bank is all that is required to ensure that your funds remain untouched.
Despite all these wonderful aspects, however, many people are asking the question, "has our reliance on technology gone too far?"
Is Easier Always Better?
The purpose of technology is to increase our quality of life. Whether it is making life possible when it otherwise would not be, or simply bringing us the little comforts like heated floors on a cold winter morning. To that end, technology is a huge success. The problems arise when people begin to rely too heavily on it.
Has Technology Changed People?
For those who can remember the days before technology started to take off, it's easy to see the difference in people now that it is commonplace. Perhaps technology caused the change, getting us used to a new set of standards; or perhaps it merely sped up a change that was bound to happen eventually.
The next time you're out and about, take a look around you. You will likely see people using phones while they wait to meet up with friends, probably even while they're with their friends. Neighbours no longer chat in the driveway, and people whip out their phone at every potential awkward moment. Don't want to make eye-contact with that person walking toward you? Pretend to text until they're gone! We are using technology as a way to isolate ourselves from the world around us. Rather than simply sit and wait for the doctor, people poke away at a screen, despite "NO CELL PHONES" signs hanging on the walls. There's nothing wrong with simply sitting and watching what's around you, but how often do you see people doing that these days?
When there is a lull in conversation, we habitually pull out the phone. Even when there isn't a lull in conversation, sometimes you'll see someone rudely start texting instead of listening to what their friend has to say. It's no different than if they had turned around and begun a new conversation with the person next to them while their friend was mid-sentence. We wouldn't tolerate a person walking off mid-conversation, so why do we tolerate our friends texting while we're trying to speak with them?
In addition to being more easily bored, studies suggest that our attention span has decreased by at least half with increased use of technology. It makes sense. People used to rely on snail-mail, and then along came e-mail; phoning a friend used to mean catching them at home, until the mobile phone was introduced. Phones took another leap when texting was invented, making communication that much faster and easier.. If we need information, we no longer need to go to the library and find books on the topic, as we can simply Google whatever we need from a smart phone. Many times we find it easier to buy what we want online and wait for it to arrive rather than make the trip down to the store. We may not have the item as quickly, but the trade-off is that we don't lose any time by driving or waiting in line. Because in this world, waiting is seen as one of the biggest inconveniences there is, and not just as a normal part of life.
How Has Technology Affected How We Interact?
While technology has the ability to bring people closer together, many times this closeness is superficial. Social networking sites like Facebook make us feel like we are friends with people, when really we hardly know more about them than what they choose to share online. Real conversations have been replaced with "likes" and short, generic comments on status updates. Friendships require effort, and technology allows us to think that a "Hey, what's up?" is equivalent to actually spending time with people.
Not only has technology created an artificial closeness, but it has given people the often-abused gift of anonymity. According to this website, over half of teens have been the victim of cyberbullying at some point. Anonymity is part of the problem, but another part of it is the screen separating the bully from their target. Even otherwise nice people can become bullies online, as they don't have to deal with any of the fallout. The impersonal nature of the internet gives people the distance they need to say things that they wouldn't say to someone's face.
Our obsession with technology has even gone so far that we've forgotten how to simply enjoy a moment. We see something pretty, funny, or impressive, and our first reaction is "I should post this online!". At concerts, people are so busy recording the event and taking selfies to post on Facebook later that they forget to actually experience the event! In fact, their desire to record it can ruin the experience for others whose view is now blocked by a cell phone or tablet waving in the air. It's natural to want to have a memento of an event, but it's also important to actually enjoy the moment as it's happening.
Technology's Affect on Education
Social lives aside, over-reliance on technology can lead to people who don't know how to function properly without it. Rather than spending time working on their printing and spelling, young children are shuffled off to the computer lab to type out their assignments while spellcheck finds most of their errors for them. Many schools are even opting to rent out laptops or tablets to students of all ages, allowing students to complete and submit entire assignments digitally as opposed to using hardcopies of textbooks, notes, or homework.
While computer skills are more or less vital in today's world, something as basic as printing is still a necessary skill and should not be shrugged off in favour of convenience. Times are changing and students must learn to keep up, but perhaps we are too quick to abandon more traditional ways of doing some things.
The effects of technology on education aren't limited to the classroom! It starts as early as infancy, with perfectly fine toys, games, and puzzles being traded in for apps toddlers can play on smartphones and tablets. It's a touchy area, as most things parenting-related are. Many people feel that such technology is unnecessary for children so young, if not harmful. It may be a case of adults being reluctant to change, but it is a valid viewpoint. Too many children are being raised by electronics, whether as a result of our busier lives, laziness, or some other reason. Just as Sesame Street is no replacement for real parenting, neither are touchscreens a replacement for toys that help small children develop an understanding of the physical world around them.
The argument against infants and children using apps doesn't stop there. Overuse of all these new gadgets has negatively affected grown adults, so what are we doing to our children when we bombard them with the same items? Perhaps it is a shift in parenting overall, but it seems that toddlers and children today already have a very firm mindset of "give me this, do it now".
How are children supposed to learn how to use their imagination and entertain themselves when the instant they feel bored, they start mindlessly poking at a game of Candy Crush? How are they supposed to learn social skills when instead of playing Tag or making up their own stories to act out together, they all sit side-by-side staring at a screen? It's safe to say that most children don't use their tablets to stay up to date on the latest scientific discoveries or world news!
Are we overwhelming our children with stimulation? Even adults fall prey to the mindset of "never be doing nothing", switching tabs the instant they feel slightly disinterested in what they were doing before. People rarely finish one task before beginning another, choosing instead to multitask and believing it to be more efficient. Research suggests that the opposite is true, however -- that the human brain cannot truly focus on more than one thing at a time, and that by multitasking we are simply forcing it to switch rapidly between tasks. It may seem harmless, but by trying to split our focus we remember less and perform each task more poorly than if we had given it our full attention.
Similarly, technology accustoms us to instant gratification. By engraining this in our children, we are effectively creating a society of people who do not know how to slow down. Children raised this way will not understand the concept of waiting -- how many times have you been impatient with commercials, the microwave, or a red traffic light? There is a disturbing trend of parents leaving the parenting to television, learning apps, or school teachers (whose job is to follow a curriculum, not to teach life lessons), rather than actually doing any real parenting. If this continues, we will soon find ourselves in a society overrun by people with no patience and short tempers, because technology has taught them that slow is bad, and faster is better.
How is Technology Affecting our Health and Mood?
We've all heard this one: "Stop sitting so close to the TV, you'll hurt your eyes!"
Well, Mom wasn't wrong. And she wasn't wrong when she told you to turn down your headphones, either. Eye strain and hearing loss are very real side effects of some of our toys. Thankfully, such things are easy enough to avoid if you listen to your mother. In today's world, however, it isn't always so simple to step away from technology.
Many people today are tied to a computer for a substantial portion of their day. Research shows that people in such a position are more prone to many health issues, from back pain and headaches to decreased blood flow and may even have a shorter lifespan. Poor posture is to blame for most of these symptoms. It is recommended that people with desk jobs correct their posture, take micro-breaks to stretch out their limbs, and try to get in a brisk walk at lunch if possible.
Think you're out of the woods because you don't have a desk job? If you do a lot of typing on your phone, you're still at risk for something called "Blackberry Thumb". It is a kind of repetitive strain injury caused by excess use of the thumb, and what it means is that the sheath around your tendons has begun to swell and cause pain. Doctors recommend that people who text a lot or send e-mail using their phone should take frequent breaks to give their thumbs a rest.
Studies also show that too much time spent on Facebook and other social networking sites can negatively affect us. Sites like this are perfect for comparing yourself to others, and can be especially bad for those already struggling with self-esteem issues. When your life seems to be going to shambles and everyone on your friends list is posting their happy announcements -- an engagement, a college acceptance letter, a new house -- it's very easy to fall into a negative thinking pattern about your own life. In fact, many people are choosing to abandon Facebook altogether after realizing how much better they feel about themselves when they haven't logged in for a while. It may be a great tool for keeping in touch, sharing news, and organizing events, but it also makes it so easy to compare yourself to others that you might not even realize you're doing it.
Technology and Romance
A frequent argument against technology is its effect on romantic relationships, though the jury appears to be out on this one so far. For those willing to try online dating, it can mean a much larger pool of potential partners -- however, it can also mean an unwillingness to "settle" when there are so many other options out there. There are also concerns about safety when it comes time to finally progress the relationship from online to face-to-face, ranging from white lies about their appearance or their job to the very real danger of online predators.
When infidelity is removed from the equation, there is still evidence that our overuse of social media has become detrimental to our relationships. According to SocialMediaToday, recent data shows that in 81 percent of divorce cases in 2011, some form of evidence from a social media site was used in the case. In 27 percent of these cases, the relationship issues involved one or both partners venting about the other online.
Cell phones and easy access to the internet have added a new dimension to relationships. Threats to a relationship can sneak up on a person in new ways: what begins as catching up with an old friend revives old feelings, and brings the temptation right to the doorstep. Maybe you just want a platonic penpal, but it leads to something inappropriate. An online conversation is easy enough to hide, as most people respect their partner's online privacy. For the cheater, it's easy to minimize their guilt with the saying, 'it's not cheating if it's online'.
However, as easy as it may be to start an online affair, it's also very easy to get caught once suspicion is aroused. After all, before cell phones and online messaging, a suspicious spouse couldn't just take a peek at your texts or your Facebook and find the evidence in writing.
The question is: has technology increased the rate of affairs, or are online cheaters just more likely to get caught?
Like anything else, technological advancement has its own set of pros and cons. Simply by looking at the world around you, it is easy to tell that the overall consensus is supportive of this Information Age we live in. However, even if a person is against some of the advancements we've made, it is hard to escape it.
Without recent advancements, it's hard to say where we might be today. We have many things that are not necessary to live a full and happy life, but are made out to seem more important than they really are. These items also tend to be the ones that are called out for causing the most problems. Society managed just fine without mobile phones in the past, yet today they are often viewed as a necessity. But is this not a trend seen throughout history? There will always be something new that takes society by storm and creates a change in how things are done and what is viewed as acceptable. What it all boils down to is that people, not items, are responsible for what changes we see in the world. We can blame technology all we want for creating a world of short-sighted, impulsive, lazy people who struggle with addiction, but in the end it is people who make their own choices. If people sit by and do nothing while undesirable behaviour takes hold, it is their own fault if the next generation grows up to fall short of their expectations.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2015 M. Morrison