For my generation, there are quite a few life changing developments which are linked to technology. When I was around ten, my dad brought home one of those box-like computers with the DOS system. Some of you are probably not old enough to have seen these ancient computers with the green or white writings on black screens. My sister and I had fun playing simple games like PAC-MAN and pinball on the computer.
Then we had the internet during my teenage years. I remember the fuzzy noises as we waited for a connection to be established and how slow and unreliable the internet connection was during the early days. However, this allowed me to chat with my friends and get to know new online friends over IRC, which was one of the most popular chat applications in the 1990s. I got my first mobile phone during A-Levels, when I was seventeen. Compared to our smartphones these days, my first mobile phone was definitely very basic, used mainly for calls, but it was such a novelty in those days.
Technology has definitely made life easier; we can get information at the click of a button, connect to people across the globe in seconds, do most things such as order food and shop without having to be physically present, etc. With driverless cars and smart homes just around the corner, our quality of life continues to improve.
However, I think that technology has also made us lazier, as we’ve become so reliant on the convenience brought to us by technology. My memory isn’t great as I don’t have to remember most things; I just need to look it up on my phone or computer. My mental arithmetic is awful because I rely on the calculator or excel spreadsheet. Years ago, my university friends and I, all of us studying subjects related to Mathematics and Accountancy, were at a restaurant and we couldn’t even divide the bill to figure out how much each of us should pay.
Ironically, I find that technology and social media have made us less sociable and more isolated than before. Even though I’ve seen the latest photos of my friends via Facebook and I can track most of their holidays and fancy meals, generally, I meet my friends less often than before. I have friends in Hong Kong who I haven’t seen in months because they’d rather play online games at home!
It is also becoming more common for people to be sat together at a restaurant but instead of having a conversation, their staring at their phones. At work, my colleague who sits a row away would rather send me a message or email instead of walking over to ask me a simple question. During a conference last week, where there were about 30 of us sat in a room, we were encouraged to submit questions for the speakers through an online platform instead of just asking the question to their face – seems bizarre to me! While we now have the flexibility of working from home, unfortunately, it also means that we are expected to constantly check our emails – first thing in the morning, in the evenings and even on holidays.
Technology is also reducing the need for human labour in quite a few industries. I work in insurance – we need fewer agents as people are buying insurance from websites. In investments, operations and middle office jobs are declining as processes are automated. In retail, stores are shutting down because of the trend towards online shopping. Automation in factories is good for reducing costs, but results in fewer jobs.
I don’t want to be a downer on technology as there are lots of benefits and I’m certainly not suggesting that we go back to living in the dark ages. However, I am worried that the downside is not being recognized and our reliance on technology could get out of hand. Have you seen the movie Her? It scares me that people walk around talking and falling in love with computer programs rather than other living and breathing humans. What about the cartoon Wall-E, where human are served by robots and hence, have become obese with our muscles going to waste?
One of my worst fears is cyber terrorism resulting in a complete shutdown where nothing works and all our data including identity are wiped out. I’m just such a worrier, aren’t I? I would love to hear your thoughts on this – am I the only one who worries about this?