Big Thoughts
July 7, 2017
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Will technology make or break us?

Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them. – Steve Jobs

As technology continues to grow exponentially and becomes ever more deeply intertwined with our lives, the world moves ever faster.

The "IoT", or Internet of Things, is a modern phenomenon in which objects and tools that once held little meaning now have the ability to create experiences that enhance and expand our daily lives.

From your smart watch to your bathroom scales – information can now be beamed from one to the other to give you detailed reports on your BMI, heart rate and even the climate in it's local area. You can control every light and radiator in your house from an application on your phone, and even keep an eye on your doggo at all times of the day.

The possibilities for the application and development of technology are quite literally endless, and as Ray Kurzweil writes about in "How To Create A Mind" – we are now beginning to make leaps in our understanding of how the human mind works, and how we might recreate technology with such potential that it might replicate or exceed the capabilities of a human mind.

It seems that we're on a non-stop rollercoaster ride through a kaleidoscopic tunnel of light and sound, colour and taste, advertising and marketing, as our senses are bombarded with an infinite amount of information from all directions.

Technology has amplified every aspect of our existence.

No longer do we have to spend time writing a letter to our friend who relocated to the other side of the globe - we can tune in to their live Facebook feed and interact with them in real-time. If we're lacking a piece of information, we can ask Google. If we need a product quickly, we can have it arrive the next day through Amazon. If we're stuck somewhere unfamiliar, we can enquire with Google maps, or request an Uber to take us to our destination within minutes.

The list is endless. Technology is becoming so integrated with our culture, that we would only actually notice it if we went without it.

Authors such as Nicholas Carr who writes in "The Shallows", Sherry Turkle in "Alone Together" and Jaron Lanier in "You Are Not A Gadget", have challenged or questioned us on our beliefs and perceptions about technology, looking at some of the potentially destructive and self-defeating aspects of it. For everything that has a positive also has a negative, as sure as fire is hot and ice is cold.

Where are we going?

It seems that this evolution is happening faster than humanity is able to keep up with, and that perhaps, in some ways, it has overtaken us.

In our minds, Hollywood has painted images of highly advanced societies that travel across Galaxies and even Universes, utilising space travel and technology that we can't even begin to image, but might not be so far away.

If we were to go back in time even thirty years and propose the concept of the internet as it is today – and everything that has sprung forth from it – to individuals of that era, we'd likely be ridiculed. Sure, technology was developing at that point, but to know just how fast things were going to change – crackers. Even as a member of the millennial generation, it's amazing for me to see the rate at which things have changed since I first operated a computer in 1997, at the age of 4.

It seems like we're having to catch up with the huge amount of development that we've made as a species, as we begin to recognise the impact that this incredible period of growth is having on our planet and the people around us. Waste sites are filling up, oil reserves are running dry and islands of garbage are forming in the middle of the pacific ocean, intoxicating and endangering our fishy friends. The population has climbed over 7 billion, and Facebook is now celebrating 2 billion users.

We truly are more connected than ever before. Or are we?

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do. – B. F. Skinner

Information has become a commodity. Widely available, everywhere, all the time.

Now that we have hand-held devices and a range of other gizmos that are capable of doing most of our thinking for us, we have less reason to add numbers together, to write that letter to our friend, to learn the correct spelling of a word or go digging through books to find golden nuggets of information and wisdom. Generally, we have less reason to think altogether and to ask our pocket pals instead.

Another great book to check out is Dr. Scott Peck's "The Road Less Travelled and Beyond", which looks at and discusses the basis of "proper thought".

There is a tendency for us to become lazy or antisocial and to develop anxieties over our attachment with technology – this is perhaps most prevalent throughout the younger generations.

Instead of sitting around the dinner table to have a conversation with our family, we opt to sit in front of a screen whilst we absorb whatever it is we so desire, or otherwise bring our screens with us to the table so that we might drip-feed ourselves with smaller doses of instant gratification whilst we eat. It can be hard to look away, when there is always so much to discover.

Instead of arranging to meet our friends to go play a game of football, we create virtual chat rooms and enter virtual realities in which we can interact in a much less physical way, sharing memes and exploring worlds that stretch our imaginations and offer us opportunities to discover something new.

Of course, it would be unfair to criticise technology, as I sit writing this article on the same machine that makes my entire lifestyle possible. It has it's pros and it's cons. Just as quickly as technology creates problems, it can also solve them.

It has enabled us to come together to work towards a common goal from all corners of the Earth, making the impossible quite possible. Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and JustGiving enable people to combine and share resources from all across the world – that idea you had and always dreamed of can now be facilitated and co-created by creative and like-minded individuals in a matter of days.

We could discuss and reflect on the wonders that technology has made possible for some time. However, the question I want to raise is whether we are being naïve with regard to it's long-term affects; how is it changing our neurological and psychological structures?

Are we mature enough to take responsibility?

Look at what happened back in the 1940's, as Einstein was helping science to make quantum leaps in it's understanding of the "atomic" structure of reality. Suddenly the potential energy of the atom was realised and we discovered how to unleash it – moments later and in the blink of an eye, two cities were wiped out of existence.

This is a prime example of a lack of responsibility when it comes to 'advanced' technologies – where 'advanced' is entirely subjective to a particular moment in time.

Now, we have learned the disastrous consequences of utilising nuclear power with which we could destroy our entire planet. We understand that this is not a good thing to do, and that it's result is deadly to all forms of life... With the exception of cockroaches – we should credit them for that. Maybe we could ask them to assess the situation over at Fukushima.

The point I'm attempting to reach here is that technology has equal potential in both expanding and contracting life on this planet. It can either bring us closer together, or propel us further apart, hinging on the decisions that we make both individually and collective on how we choose to use it.

Whether it's a nuclear bomb or a smartphone, we need to take a closer look at the risks and implications of these devices that we are integrating into our lives. More so for the benefit of younger generations, and those to come – as ultimately it will be the responsibility of my generation and those who follow to create future foundations for government, environmental policies, education and so forth.

Disconnection vs. Connection

What do you see when you ride the bus or train to work on a morning? What do you see when you're sat in a coffee shop? What do you see when you're on your lunch break at work?

Obviously, I can't answer those questions for you – and it would be unwise to make sweeping generalisations – but I can make an informed guess based on my personal experience that there will be a high number of people gazing into a screen – and if not for the duration, for at least some of it. If they're not, it's equally likely that they are talking into one, streaming music, or have part of their awareness inside of their pocket waiting to receive their next message.

The amount of people that I have questioned, personally, on their usage of technology and whether they have any anxieties relating to it is phenomenal.

Whether you're an incredibly empathetic individual who is unable to decline a phone call or conversation who ends up spending half of their life on the phone or in a chat with someone who has no real interest in speaking with them – only to gratify their own desire for attention. Leaving you feeling drained, unmotivated and uninterested.

Or an individual who is constantly seeking that attention, the desire to be liked and appreciated, validated through a medium such as Facebook as you constantly project input in the hope of receiving likes and shares.

It seems that technology for many has become a huge distraction. A drug. A very accessible and socially accepted escape from reality. A distraction from our relationship issues with our partner; from our health issues, our loneliness, our boredom. From years of suppressed and buried feelings that we never really dealt with.

This is not to say that technology is the cause of a our problems but rather a contributing factor to a disconnection with the self and henceforth, with each other.

Whilst it provides us with a great mirror for us to discover and learn more about ourselves, the more that we realise how different and unique we really are can also create feelings of loneliness and isolation. Mobile dating apps such as Tinder, whilst making it easier than ever to meet new people, reflect just how shallow culture can become when operating through a digital medium.

I supposed you could say that humanity is facing a spiritual dilemma. We're at a huge turning point in the evolution of our species; as we make one groundbreaking discovery after another, as science and medicine are make huge leaps in it's understanding of the mind and body, and as social media enables individuals with the power to orchestrate political revolutions.

When we step back to take a look at the bigger picture, things could appear to be very much out of control and chaotic. I would see these as symptoms of something much bigger, for which technology is acting as a catalyst, speeding up and amplifying human thoughts, interactions and behaviour.

Is technology going to make or break us? Will we choose to use it as a tool to unite ourselves, or to create more division and war? Will we choose to worship it as a god, or to recognise it as an amazing creation that represents the infinite potential of the human mind?

As one of the greatest innovators and inventors of our time said – the late Steve Jobs – technology is nothing. It is a tool, that we can do wonderful things with. If we choose.