Is technology making our lives better?
- A 2018 Pew Research Center questionnaire of tech experts, scholars, and health experts found that 47% predict “individuals’ well-being will be more helped than harmed by digital life in the next decade.”
- The International Telecommunication Union estimated in 2019 that more than half of the global population--or 4 billion people--use the internet.
- The first widely recognized social media site, sixdegrees, was founded in 1997 by Andrew Weinreich.
- The term “Luddite,” which describes “people who dislike new technology,” originated from the 19th-century labor movement that opposed how “mechanized manufactures and their unskilled laborers undermined the skilled craftsmen of the day.”
Our current technological age has caused lasting adverse effects to millions of people, primarily through the mental health issues that have arisen since the advent of social media. A 2017 study of young adults found that people who used social media more frequently were more than three times as likely to feel socially isolated than their counterparts who used it less regularly. Other research has also found that rates of teenage depression in the US have steadily increased since 2012--again due to social media use.
However, technology affects not only mental health but also physical health, as it negatively influences sleep habits. A 2015 study revealed that exposure to blue-light devices in the evening can suppress melatonin and interrupt internal sleep cycles, making it harder to fall asleep and harder to stay alert the next morning. Research suggests that 40% of children have cell phones by the fifth grade and that the bedtime use of technology leading to sleep problems can result in a 'lack of productivity, depression, lack of energy, and poor school performance.' Not to mention that the non-physical lifestyle promoted by engagement in the digital world often results in metabolic diseases, leading to more adverse physical ailments.
Finally, dependence on technology promotes a shorter attention span. Psychologist Dr. Sharon Horwood states that technology has 'the tendency to increase our absent-mindedness, reduce our ability to think and remember, to pay attention to things and regulate emotion.'
Technology can make our lives easier and more convenient, but it doesn't make our lives truly better.
Though there are plenty of examples of technology or technological developments contributing to greater societal unrest or adverse environmental effects, overall, the advances made through technology in the last several decades have led to a remarkable number of improvements, both big and small.
To start on a more micro level, the advances made in communications have not only created a more connected world but one where jobs and industries can be more directly tailored for their workers. For instance, if a Philadelphia-based writer were recruited to contribute to a news start-up located in California forty years ago, they almost certainly would have had to relocate across the country, while today, they can email their assignments from their own living rooms.
This quicker level of communication can also allow for greater collaboration on much larger issues. International coordination on the R21 malaria vaccine led to a potential breakthrough in fighting the deadly parasitic infection and provided the foundation needed to create the COVID-19 vaccinations in less than a year.
Advancement can also be seen in addressing flaws in older technologies, refining them, or making them more efficient. Cars are now safer and more fuel-efficient, renewable energy is now a growing part of energy resources in the U.S, and a GPS on your cell phone can ensure you’re never lost. Even weather forecasting has improved, with faster computers and more refined math equations providing far more accurate predictions.
Meanwhile, refinements in cancer screenings and treatments have seen rising survival rates for multiple types of cancers over the last fifty years, a huge and material advance for aging populations.
In almost every way, technology has made our lives better.