Do we rely too heavily on technology?

GPS Locator Device

Technology is a wonderful thing. In many ways it’s why we enjoy a high level of comfort in our lives, improving our working and living conditions. But do you think our reliance on technology goes too far? Or is technology merely a tool for social development?

As a writer I’ve explored the moral and ethical use of technology quite heavily in my work but I’ve always had a favourable view of technology. However a recent experience has made me question that. I was shopping the other day, getting a couple of DVDs, and I was thrilled when I saw they were on sale; buy two and get 20% off the second. Perfect! So I grabbed both and queued up.

The woman who served me took the DVDs; the first one was fine but the second scanned up at full price. She didn’t know it was on sale, so I told her it was 20% off and she scanned it again but it was still the same price. She started to do it manually but said she didn’t have a calculator, so she didn’t know the price.

I was stunned. First, how can you work there and not know what’s on sale? But even worse – didn’t have a calculator? It was 20% off $30, hardly rocket science. Do we rely on calculators that much? Finally she fixed it and I paid for them and left.

I know it’s just a small thing but I can’t help but think that it’s symbolic of a larger problem. Just because technology is there and makes something easier doesn’t mean we should rely on it so much that we can’t think for ourselves. What happens when the technology fails? In April this year the London Stock Exchange was closed for 8 hours when a glitch shut down its system. They lost millions of pounds and all they could do was sit and watch. Should any piece of technology be so important that we can’t function without it for 8 hours?

It’s not just the way we use technology, though, but the way people obsess over it. Have you noticed how people can’t live without their mobile phones? If they’re not talking then they’re checking for a message that wasn’t there two minutes ago. Can’t we be out of touch for even a few minutes? And that’s not even mentioning the hype surrounding the iPhone. Or the Kindle. I don’t understand the fuss about the Kindle. I like ebooks but I can’t justify the price of a reader and I’m sure long-term I’d miss the touch and feel of real paper.

My point is that technology seems to have become more of a convenience than a tool. Let me ask you this. If civilisation were to fall tomorrow, could you survive without technology? How would you cook without electricity? How would you get clean water and travel without working transport? How would you stay warm? How would you protect your family and teach your children?

I’m not sure I could survive in that world; I doubt most people could. The civilisation that survived would be very different… but isn’t that the same argument pessimists have used against change since the beginning of time? Weren’t there doubts that other inventions would destroy society and take away our humanity just as people talk about computers and the net now?

I guess I’m conflicted. While I do feel that we’re starting to lose ourselves, I am also a big fan of the potential of technology. I have an extreme sensitivity to noise and being outside is like torture when I’m not feeling well. But a few years ago I found a pair of earphones that use sound isolating technology to block noise and they’ve been a godsend. So I know firsthand what technology can do for someone’s life.

If you think about it, the advances in technology (particularly recently) have been astonishing. Technology has brought us DVDs and iPods, microwaves and cameras. It’s taken us to the Moon, brought us images from Mars. And then there’s medicine. It’s not just the instruments and techniques but the way medical science has advanced. We’ve cured diseases, mapped the human genome; our quality of life is better than any generation’s and we live longer than ever before. And people who never believed they could have children now can. Looking at technology that way, how can anyone deny its impact?

And that’s not even touching on cyberspace. There are a lot of bad things about the net – porn, viruses, spam – but its benefits are far greater. While the net is primarily an information resource, its true power lies in that it connects people in ways we’ve never seen before. Previous inventions have brought us closer together (trains linked cities, planes linked nations) but the internet is the world’s first global community. The net is the future and that’s the real power of technology, to show the way forward.

But even in moving forward it’s still important to hold on to our values. Some advancements make me feel uncomfortable: gene therapy makes my skin crawl and I find the developments in artificial intelligence, while impressive, ethically troubling. Are we ready to create life? Like many people I’m also worried that our social skills are deteriorating. I’ve heard of people texting each other when they’re in the same room instead of speaking – and then there’s the Euricase, which allows you to propose to your partner without even being in the room.

So I guess when people say that we’re losing ourselves to technology, I agree to some extent. But I see the benefits as well and I don’t see why there can’t be a balance. If we can respect our past but embrace the future at the same time, I don’t see why we should ever lose who we are.

That’s what I try to do. I think I’ve found a balance and I’m not afraid of an iPod or an ebook; I just try to buy a CD and go to the library as well. I send emails and texts, but I don’t forget to say hi to my neighbours and turn off my phone. If we can do that then I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

The future will take care of itself.

32 thoughts on “Do we rely too heavily on technology?

  1. so, so true CJ! Sometimes i actually get out a pen and a piece of paper and write a letter to a friend. Just to remember the good old days. :)

  2. Thanks, WR. Good to know I’m not the only one! There’s nothing better than receiving a letter in the mail, is there? The smell of paper, reading someone’s handwriting… ah, those were the days. :)

  3. I actually think we don’t use enough technology. We should be doing more research on stem cells, nano-technology, solar (& other alternate sources of) power etc.

    We seem to be too squeamish about GMO – Only if we research more would we know which modifications are safe. At the rate our population is growing, GMO may be a pretty good way to exponentially increase yield per hectare.

    Though with all the gadgets, the amount of waste that we generate – PCBs especially – is mounting. We haven’t made enough head-way into waste management – there’s a method called “poly crack” that can convert plastic waste to oil. Its not cost effective now – we could focus on that.

    But yes. With all the technology around us, we hardly talk to our neighbors. At least, I don’t. But, internet, orkut & twitter help me find like-minded people across the world. And avoid the snobs next-door :-)

  4. I’m torn. There’s some technology I find it hard to imagine going without, but I hate feeling dependant on technology like that.

    I think maybe the woman in the DVD store might have just been a bit dim; “Oh, no, I haven’t got a calculator” sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would blurt out if I was forced to do any unexpected maths, not because I can’t handle percentages, but just as a result of being caught off-guard.

  5. I agree, Priya, there are a lot of technologies we should be developing but aren’t either for political, social or monetary reasons. Something like stem cell research is very promising but with the stigma attached to it, it will always be difficult to gain the necessary support to raise awareness and funding. And yet stem cells could revolutionise medicine and unlock the secrets to curing some of our worst diseases… isn’t that something we should want to be pursuing?

    I suppose it comes back to the way technology has become more of a convenience. Most people think of technology as a computer or gadget like an iPod but technology isn’t an invention, it’s the application of science and knowledge. In dismissing technology, people are really dismissing the pursuit of knowledge and that’s what bothers me about the criticism; they’re making the wrong argument. It’s not whether we rely on technology too much but whether we’re developing it in the right areas… when you look at overpopulation and then the iPhone, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

    I love the internet, though. It’s a wonderful resource and might actually be the thing that tips the balance, that helps people to connect and make a difference. I mean, just five years ago I would never have thought I’d be blogging and on Facebook and meeting people from all over the world! Ain’t blogging grand. ;)

    That sounds a lot like my reaction too, Bobby. I can’t imagine not having a TV or DVD but I don’t like the idea that we couldn’t live without them either… sometimes I wonder what would happen if we went for a day without technology? How hard would it be? Might be an interesting project, actually.

    I thought that about the woman as well and it didn’t bother me that much; she was off-guard, so it wasn’t her fault. But unfortunately it’s not the first time I’ve heard that about calculators; several schools over here even allow students full use of their laptops and mobiles to find answers. The idea is that they’ll need those skills more than traditional ones because they’ll be using technology for the rest of their lives… I don’t know. I think you learn a lot about yourself by doing something the hard way.

    Having said that I hated maths, so I’d be using a calculator too. :)

  6. I agree, for the most part. It always seems that the more “connected” we get, the farther we drift away from actual human contact — which isn’t a good thing at all.

  7. Hi leapsecond, it does seem like that, doesn’t it? We’re becoming more connected online and our language is changing, but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing overall. It’s natural for a society to evolve… if we compared the 20th century to the 18th, wouldn’t the changes seem just as dramatic?

    Still, I hope we can retain our individuality as well and embrace the benefits. We have the potential to make some amazing advances in this century. I hope I’m around long enough to see them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

  8. This is so true it hurts. I am fourteen, and I have seen 25 year olds more dependent on technology than I. To a certain extent, technology has managed to turn the human race into zombies. Excellent article, well executed, five stars.

  9. i agree, i think that we r using the technology too much, and our language is changing, i mean look at the way that we type, we start to shorten our typing. and i am 17 years old, and i have an ipod, and i find that i cant sleep without having to listen to my ipod at least for a little bit, or else im up for a long time. we start to take advantage of the technology that we have now, like the tv, internet, ipods, etc… and i think that there should be at least a limit on how much technology that we use now adays:(

    1. dman15, You are saying how our language is changing and how we take advantage of technology. I completely agree with you, but look at the way you are even typing. Technology has made the human race so lazy that we won’t even use a capital ‘I’ or spell out the word are [r]. Technology is great in a way but it has made us all very lazy and I’m sure many will one hundred percent agree.

  10. I am 13, doing my SS paper and using this article as my artifacts, if you dun mind. Great one! I searched long and hard before i could find an article related to MY search, “modern technology too modern?” URGH….. Oh yes, serioulsy, poublish a book on this. I’ll buy it. LOL

  11. I’ve looked at articles such as this before, but I can’t seem to find many about what will become of the human race as we start to rely more and more on technology.

  12. im going to have to dissagree with how technology, mainly cyberspace, has connected people. While trains, planes, and automobiles have been able to physically bring people together, cyberspace brings only the illusion.

    im actually writing a paper in class about how people rely too much on technology and bringing previous experience and really watching people interact on a daily basis and then comparing. its funny.

    how do they spend their free time? facebook and twitter. its like every waking moment, in the back of their mind theyre thinking “how many people would like this on facebook?” “would people think my life is more exciting if i posted this picture?” Their lives revolve around this online “community” of people they dont even know. does anyone talk to more than 1000 people on a daily, heck even a monthly basis? doubtful.

    technology has brought people together, no doubt about that. but when you have to text someone because you cant talk on the phone, or when you have to rely on a computer matchmaking system to find your other half, its too much. cyberspace may get us more “friends”, but it eliminates our ability to truly look at a person as a human being and not some cyberbuddy.

  13. I found this rather intressting, I would like to add a side note on this by saying it all starts when we’re born. Babies have the knowoledge to recognize products at eigth months. That said I would like to ask you how would you stop this dilemma from getting out of hand, since it is already to much because of excesive amounts of advertisements.

  14. umm im doing an argumentative essay and i chose this topic you were talking about and i had to think you summed it up perfectly. Im also starting to write chapterbooks and i love the fact that your occupation and this article inspired me both. thank you so much.

  15. You spelled “civilization” wrong. Great story by the way. I’m using this during school for my English report on how we depend on technology more than our own productivity. This is very helpful and I’m looking forward to reading more.

  16. My friend and I are writing an argumentative essay for our English class. This article is very helpful. Thank you! :~{)

  17. It is the new way to evolve. Prehistoric fish learned to breath air so they could forage on land. Other animals developed claws to dig, wings to fly, smell to locate food or identify danger. I look at technology as a form of evolution. Humans have developed technologies in medicine, communication, alternative energies etcetera and we are beginning to use the developments as if they are natural extensions of our physical and emotional being. How many times have you heard someone say “Her cell phone is attached to her hand”. With technology there may come a day in the not to distant future where devices are attached or implanted so as to become a permanent addition to our bodies. This is not evolution in the Darwinian sense, but, rather evolution created by humans in order to enhance their capabilities and the quality or strength of existence. The only way we can ever have to much technology is if we develop technology capable of learning and creating and deciding courses of actions or plans for how and in which direction it wants to develop all without any control from humans. If we are moronic enough to create this type of technology, then, I feel we will have sealed our own demise and that we have at that point received to much technology.

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