Several conversations with my friends over the years have revolved around the theme of ‘Wow! What did people DO before such-and-such technology?!’
As technology has advanced to give us ever more versatile tools meant to either simplify everyday living or to more intimately connect the world to us, those discussions with friends have themselves evolved – what was science-fiction yesterday is today’s indispensable app. The time has come that we seriously consider the positive and negative impacts of technology.
Where would we be without the wheel, phone, light bulb, or the ubiquitous internet and its related inventions? Vulnerable to the whims of nature and experiencing every day as a struggle for continued existence. However, the ‘double-edged sword’ element of advances in technology have long been concerns of social scientists, and it is only today with the unprecedented proliferation of digital technology that the darker side of progress is becoming all too obvious.
In East Asia, especially China, Taiwan and South Korea, incidents have been reported of individuals literally dropping dead after continuous online gaming over days. What’s worse, there have been cases of people letting their infants starve to death because they ‘forgot’ about them. A particularly disturbing case from South Korea revealed that one such couple had been preoccupied with raising a ‘virtual child’ instead.
On the other side of the coin, the same online technology is employed by Apple’s ResearchKit medical and health research software. ResearchKit helps doctors, scientists and other researchers gather data at smaller intervals and with increased precision from participants using mobile devices. It will enable more comprehensive analyses for a deeper understanding of asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
Evidence of Man’s baser instincts comes to light when we discover how much time, effort and money has been – and continues to be – invested into weapons research and development. You would be mistaken to assume that this is something new – gunpowder, initially developed in the 10th century for use in fireworks for entertainment, was quickly adapted for weapons use; Renaissance Man Leonardo da Vinci left behind blueprints for tanks, giant crossbows and multiple-barrel cannons which all originated from his spectacular civilian inventions. A look at today’s weapons and defense technology is demonstrative of the fact that every new discovery, however initially benign, may be somehow incorporated into military use.
A watershed has been reached that demands open and frank discussion of the positive and negative impacts of technology. We are rushing blindly into the seemingly glorious future at a rate which does not allow us as a species to adapt to the irreversible changes it is making to the world and us as individuals. We scan programs for viruses before we download them onto our computers – should we be doing the same to the technology we employ on ourselves?
A recent incident summed up the positive and negative aspects of technology for me. I was having lunch with friends when a couple sat at a table next to ours and promptly started wordlessly tapping away at their phones. Technology had connected them to people thousands of miles away… but estranged them from those sitting across the table.
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