It is undeniable that technology has improved the lives of everyday people in the 20th and 21st centuries. It is also undeniable, however, that these improvements have come at a cost. Some notable costs are as follows:
Jobs. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. For every cool hi-tech job that’s been added – from webmaster to cell phone application developer – there have been brick and mortar jobs sacrificed. There are few secretaries these days to take a memo; instead, we type emails on our laptops. Manufacturing plants that used to employ dozens of people now are staffed by skeleton crews who perform basic maintenance on robotic equipment. And just try and find an actual live customer service person on the telephone, and you’ll discover just how prevalent technology has become. The argument can be made that these were not high-paying high-skilled jobs, but they were jobs nonetheless, and they have been replaced by technology. And as we become more and more a service economy, is it a problem that much of our “services” are being automated?
Privacy. Simply put, if Big Brother was watching in 1984, he’s both watching and listening in 2010. Cell phones with GPS capabilities are handy on the road, but civil libertarians worry that if the satellite knows where your cell phone is is, there’s a data trail somewhere that can tie it to you. Walk across any urban street, and you’re in the cross-hairs of multiple surveillance cameras. Click on a website, and computer cookies take notice. Most of us have nothing to hide, and that’s a good thing, because hiding is no longer a viable option.
Community. Technology has a great ability to connect people, from texting to webcams to Facebook, but eye-to-eye human interaction takes a decided back seat. Eat at a restaurant and odds are that the family at the next table are each texting on their phones, ignoring each other. Conversations in the car have been muted by DVD players. DVRs are great conveniences, but watercooler discussions about that popular show last night have been eliminated, since watching on demand has replaced the communal experience of yesteryear. There are concerns that the growth of our children’s interpersonal skills are becoming stunted due to a lack of nurturing, hardly a surprise in childhoods where babysitters are often technological devices and not a Grandma or a trusted neighbor. Its not limited to children, however. Go to any school play or music recital, and half the dads in the room spend the entire hour staring into a tiny LCD screen at arms length, unable to give an encouraging smile to little Johnny since little Johnny can never see Dad’s face.
Morality. Technology is specifically gray, not black or white. It isn’t up to technology to decide if material is appropriate or inappropriate to the viewer, or whether that government official should really be privy to that information about your neighbor. Video games are becoming more lifelike than actual life, but there are concerns that their graphic nature desensitizes us from feelings of shock and awe. The internet gives us access to nearly everything we could possible want to know, but easy anonymous access isn’t always a good thing, and there’s something to be said about accountability.
At the end of the day, none of us want to give up the technological advances that have improved our day-to-day lives. But we must also remember that it is up to us to control technology. If we don’t, technology might end up controlling us.