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.

You've got to be kidding me

Update: If you’re searching for images of the Montauk Monster, please see this post. If you are seeing ads with this post, I apologise; it is WordPress who have put them here, not me.

You’ve got to love eBay, don’t you? Between finding a sweater for a bargain in just the right colour or a copy of an old favourite book, it seems like you can find just about anything if you look hard enough. And then there are the bizarre auctions. I’m never quite sure what to make of those. Some are fun… others are so dumb they make your head hurt.

Why would people want to bid on some of these things? I can understand that a time machine has novelty value but buying someone’s used tissue? Or a hairball? Ew. I don’t need the tissue, the thought of it is enough to make me sick. And then today I saw Nana the Banana octopus. “Nana” is a used banana skin which has been dressed up as Nana Walker Bobana, a fake President… it’s so stupid I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

But it gets worse. Just after Nana I saw this: the body of an alien found on a beach in Florida. It’s possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. And it went for $53! Are they out of their minds? If you’ve got too much money, give it to a charity, don’t waste it.

I don’t even see how it’s supposed to resemble an alien. It looks fake to me or like a turtle without its shell… and why are its arms in a superhero pose? I guess it just proves that there’s always someone who’ll buy anything… especially if it’s dried and preserved with “little otherworldly scents”. 😕

It’s interesting seeing everything that’s been created in the wake of eBay’s success. Most of these bizarre auctions are silly but they’ve become so popular that they’re an entire industry now. Without eBay PayPal wouldn’t have become as widely used as it is now and eBay’s support of Skype has helped it to become successful. It’s spun off a number of online auction tools – and that’s not even mentioning the sniping websites that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

Sniping’s the main thing I dislike about eBay. Perhaps it’s the kind of items I bid on (usually CDs and DVDs) but I end up getting sniped in most of my auctions. I don’t mind being outbid but I hate being sniped at the last moment; it doesn’t break any of eBay’s rules but it’s infuriating and if I were a seller I’d be tempted to leave negative feedback; annoying as it is for bidders, the sniped bid is usually much lower for sellers, so they don’t like it much either.

We do have maximum bids, which in theory should protect bidders, but most people prefer incremental bids and it’s really up to eBay to level the field. But they won’t as sniping is part of the experience. And maybe it is… I’m just bitter as I’ve been sniped four times this week and two came in the last five seconds. But more people will do it if it seems like it’s the only way they can win.

I think the truth is that eBay needs a competitor. At the moment other auction sites can’t match its size and eBay’s dominance has allowed its auction services to stagnate even while branching out into other areas. It needs to become relevant again and perhaps competition is the best way to do that, which would benefit the consumer. Whether there’s a legitimate competitor out there, though, I don’t know… eBay might have too much of a monopoly already.

Anyway, I’ve just been frustrated; I hate being sniped and then I saw those bizarre auctions and it reminded me of how bloated eBay has become. I wonder what you think? Do you like eBay? Do you think a new competitor would be good for eBay? Does bid sniping bother you? Is it an alien, a turtle or something else? Let me know what you think. 😉

You’ve got to be kidding me

Update: If you’re searching for images of the Montauk Monster, please see this post. If you are seeing ads with this post, I apologise; it is WordPress who have put them here, not me.

You’ve got to love eBay, don’t you? Between finding a sweater for a bargain in just the right colour or a copy of an old favourite book, it seems like you can find just about anything if you look hard enough. And then there are the bizarre auctions. I’m never quite sure what to make of those. Some are fun… others are so dumb they make your head hurt.

Why would people want to bid on some of these things? I can understand that a time machine has novelty value but buying someone’s used tissue? Or a hairball? Ew. I don’t need the tissue, the thought of it is enough to make me sick. And then today I saw Nana the Banana octopus. “Nana” is a used banana skin which has been dressed up as Nana Walker Bobana, a fake President… it’s so stupid I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

But it gets worse. Just after Nana I saw this: the body of an alien found on a beach in Florida. It’s possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. And it went for $53! Are they out of their minds? If you’ve got too much money, give it to a charity, don’t waste it.

I don’t even see how it’s supposed to resemble an alien. It looks fake to me or like a turtle without its shell… and why are its arms in a superhero pose? I guess it just proves that there’s always someone who’ll buy anything… especially if it’s dried and preserved with “little otherworldly scents”. 😕

It’s interesting seeing everything that’s been created in the wake of eBay’s success. Most of these bizarre auctions are silly but they’ve become so popular that they’re an entire industry now. Without eBay PayPal wouldn’t have become as widely used as it is now and eBay’s support of Skype has helped it to become successful. It’s spun off a number of online auction tools – and that’s not even mentioning the sniping websites that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

Sniping’s the main thing I dislike about eBay. Perhaps it’s the kind of items I bid on (usually CDs and DVDs) but I end up getting sniped in most of my auctions. I don’t mind being outbid but I hate being sniped at the last moment; it doesn’t break any of eBay’s rules but it’s infuriating and if I were a seller I’d be tempted to leave negative feedback; annoying as it is for bidders, the sniped bid is usually much lower for sellers, so they don’t like it much either.

We do have maximum bids, which in theory should protect bidders, but most people prefer incremental bids and it’s really up to eBay to level the field. But they won’t as sniping is part of the experience. And maybe it is… I’m just bitter as I’ve been sniped four times this week and two came in the last five seconds. But more people will do it if it seems like it’s the only way they can win.

I think the truth is that eBay needs a competitor. At the moment other auction sites can’t match its size and eBay’s dominance has allowed its auction services to stagnate even while branching out into other areas. It needs to become relevant again and perhaps competition is the best way to do that, which would benefit the consumer. Whether there’s a legitimate competitor out there, though, I don’t know… eBay might have too much of a monopoly already.

Anyway, I’ve just been frustrated; I hate being sniped and then I saw those bizarre auctions and it reminded me of how bloated eBay has become. I wonder what you think? Do you like eBay? Do you think a new competitor would be good for eBay? Does bid sniping bother you? Is it an alien, a turtle or something else? Let me know what you think. 😉

Are you an Internet Addict?

addicted.jpg

Are You Addicted to the Internet?

I hate being offline. I’m not sure if anyone else feels like this as well but when I’m offline for more than a few days I start to get anxious; not so much that it becomes a problem, but I always know there are emails in my inbox, things I want to do online… it nags at me and then when I do go online, there’s so much to catch up on that it makes me want to turn off the screen again.

I call the feeling iGuilt and I’ve had a really bad case of it lately. I’ve been a little distracted and haven’t been able to do more than just check my email and I even let that slip for a day. And when I came back on, I had over 30 emails to reply to. Well, they can wait; another day’s not going to hurt them. What I’ve actually missed more has been blogging. Answering comments, catching up on other blogs… it’s funny how much it becomes a part of your life. I’m looking forward to catching up later.

Being offline never happens at a good time, though, does it? I’d just got some ideas for new posts and of course that’s when it happens, not when I have blogger’s block! I’ll get to them over the next few days but I thought I’d just post a quick quiz today to go with the update; this seemed like a good one to go along with the iGuilt. 😉

Apparently I’m a pretty normal internet user. I guess I’d agree with that; I’ve never had too many problems online. But I’ve often wondered about internet addiction. We treat it sceptically but in South Korea and Japan there are entire centres for internet addiction. I’m not sure why we dismiss it so easily here but it’s simple to see how it could have a major impact on someone’s life… more people are spending longer and longer online and the impact that can have on our health and relationships shouldn’t be underestimated.

One thing I wonder, though, is whether it’s a true addiction or merely a symptom of other disorders? Many internet addicts suffer from depression and emotional problems and for others it can hide impulse disorders and gambling addictions. Using one term to cover everything seems to give the wrong idea. And unlike other addictions, aren’t most forms of internet addiction self-inflicted? Obviously it’s not as simple as just stopping, but no one forces someone online to begin with, so aren’t they responsible in some way?

I’m not sure myself. Most experts think that the problem can correct itself, suggesting it’s more that someone has to unlearn a behaviour… but then that can’t be true for everyone. If someone has an addictive personality, their brains are wired differently; once they start, they lose all control and they can’t stop even if they try. You only need to look at some of the people who died playing video games to see that.

Perhaps what we’re really talking about is the difference between an obsessive personality and an addictive one. For some people it becomes an obsession; spending too many hours online, losing track of time… it builds up over time, but it’s something they can change if they try. But for others it really is an addiction, something they have no control over. It takes over their lives until they can think of nothing else… it’s only going to become a bigger problem in the future as well, so hopefully it’s taken more seriously.

I know I don’t have a problem online but I try to be careful. Often I’m online for most of the day; part of it’s work and the rest of the time I’m doing research. Because I’m on a lot there’s always the risk I’ll come to depend on it, and in a way I have; that’s what I found with being offline for a few days, I missed it. But I think that’s natural as well. The net has changed; the content is better and there are reasons to want to be online, not least of which is the community. Like anything it’s making sure that you stay in control and can enjoy what the net has to offer. At the moment I think I’ve got a good balance… even if it comes with iGuilt every now and then. 🙂

So what about you? Are you addicted to the internet? How do you balance real life with virtual life? If you have any tips, I could use them at the moment. 😉