Determining When Technology Hurts

I’ve been talking with a friend recently about a disturbing trend that I’m witnessing. Technology has started hurting people, more than helping people, in a number of ways. Actually, it’s not the technology that’s at fault, but the misuse and abuse of that technology. One of my goals as an author is to expose people to various technologies in a way that helps them. This goal is one my major reasons for writing books like Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. It’s also the reason I’m constantly looking at how our society interacts with technology.

I’m sure that there is going to be some sort of course correction, but currently, our society has become addicted to technology in a way that harms everyone. You could be addicted to technology if you’ve ever experienced one of these symptoms:

 

  • You’re with friends, family, or acquaintances, but your attention is so focused on whatever technology you’re using at the moment that you lose all track of the conversation. It’s as if these other people aren’t even there.
  • You find yourself making excuses to spend just one more minute with your technology, rather than spend time with your family or friends.
  • In some cases, you forgo food, sleep, or some other necessity in order to spend more time with your technology.
  • Suddenly you have more electronic friends than physical friends.
  • You can’t remember the last time you turned all of your technology off, forgot about it, and spent the day doing anything else without worrying about it.
  • You’ve had some sort of accident or mishap because your technology got in the way.
  • Attempting even small tasks without your technology has suddenly become impossible.


Technology is meant to serve mankind, not the other way around. For example, I was quite excited to learn about the new exoskeleton technologies that I wrote about in my Exoskeletons Become Reality post. The idea that I’m able communicate with people across the world continues to amaze me. Seeing Mars through the eyes of the rovers is nothing short of spectacular. Knowing that someone is able to live by themselves, rather than in an institution, because of their computer sends shivers up my spine. These are all good uses of technology.

However, these good uses have become offset by some of the news I’ve been reading. For example, it has been several years now since scientists and doctors have begun raising concerns about texting being worse than drunk driving. What these various groups haven’t considered is that anything that distracts you while driving is bad. For example, radios now have so many gadgets that you can get quite engrossed trying to get what you want out of them. Except for turning the radio on or off, or perhaps changing the station, I now leave my hands off the radio unless I’m parked. The fact that I daily see cars weaving to and fro in front of me as the driver obviously plays with something in the front seat or on the dash board tells me that other people aren’t quite as able to turn off the urge to fiddle.

I know of more than a few people who are absolutely never disconnected from their technology. They actually exhibit addictive behavior when faced with even a short time away from their technology. It’s not just games, but every aspect of computer use. Some people who work in IT can’t turn off from their computer use even when on vacation—they take a computer with them. I’ve talked about this issue in my Learning to Unplug post.

I look for the situation to become far worse before it become better. This past Sunday I was listening to a show on the radio that talked about how banks would like to get rid of any use of physical money. You’d carry an electronic wallet in your smartphone and that wallet would provide access to all of your money. In short, even if you’d like to unplug, you can’t because now you depend on that smartphone for the basics in life. At some point, everyone will have to have smartphone simply to survive if the banks have their way.

Of course, why bother with a smartphone when you can embed the computer right into the human body? The science exists to do this now. All that has to happen is that people lose their wariness of embedded computer technology—just as they have with every other form of technology to come along. Part of the method for selling this technology will undoubtedly be the ability to control your computer with your mind.

Technology is currently embedded in humans to meet special needs. For example, if you have a pacemaker, it’s likely that the doctor can check up on its functionality using a wireless connection. However, even here, humans have found a way to abuse technology as explained in my An Update On Special Needs Device Hacking post. What has changed since then is that the entertainment industry has picked up on this sick idea. It’s my understanding that NCIS recently aired a show with someone dying of this very attack. Viewers probably thought is was the stuff of science fiction, but it’s actually science fact. You really can die when someone hacks into your pacemaker.

The implications of what these various groups are working are quite disturbing. As technology becomes more and more embodied within humans, the ability to be alone, ever, will be gone. Any thought you have will also be heard by someone else. There won’t be any privacy; any time to yourself. You’ll be trapped. It’s happening right now and everyone seems to be quite willing to rush toward it at breakneck speed.

The day could come when your ability to think for yourself will be challenged by the brainwaves injected by some implanted device. Theoretically, if the science goes far enough, the ability to even control your own body will be gone. Someone is probably thinking that I sound delusional or perhaps paranoid—I truly hope that none of the future technologies I’ve read about ever come into wide use.

In the meantime, the reality is that you probably could use a break from your technology. Take time to go outside and smell the flowers. Spend an afternoon with a physical friend discussing nothing more than the beautiful day or the last book you read. Go to a theater and watch a play or a movie with your technology left at home. Eat a meal in peace. Leave your smartphone at home whenever you can. Better yet, turn it off for a day or two. Unplug from the technology that has taken over your life and take time to live. You really do owe it to yourself.

 

Author: John

John Mueller is a freelance author and technical editor. He has writing in his blood, having produced 99 books and over 600 articles to date. The topics range from networking to artificial intelligence and from database management to heads-down programming. Some of his current books include a Web security book, discussions of how to manage big data using data science, a Windows command -line reference, and a book that shows how to build your own custom PC. His technical editing skills have helped over more than 67 authors refine the content of their manuscripts. John has provided technical editing services to both Data Based Advisor and Coast Compute magazines. He has also contributed articles to magazines such as Software Quality Connection, DevSource, InformIT, SQL Server Professional, Visual C++ Developer, Hard Core Visual Basic, asp.netPRO, Software Test and Performance, and Visual Basic Developer. Be sure to read John’s blog at http://blog.johnmuellerbooks.com/.

When John isn’t working at the computer, you can find him outside in the garden, cutting wood, or generally enjoying nature. John also likes making wine and knitting. When not occupied with anything else, he makes glycerin soap and candles, which comes in handy for gift baskets. You can reach John on the Internet at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. John is also setting up a website at http://www.johnmuellerbooks.com/. Feel free to take a look and make suggestions on how he can improve it.