We are living in the age of technological wonders. Scientific breakthroughs and technological novelties draw as much public attention as news about wars, political scandals, and celebrities. In a way, scientists and developers have become celebrities themselves: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Stephen Hawking, and many others—these people who are or were rock stars in the world of science and technologies. What could exist only in science-fiction movies or novels is becoming reality right in front of our eyes. For example, the holographic companion from the recent “Blade Runner 2049” is already not so fictitious anymore: in Japan, they have created a prototype of artificial intelligence that can communicate with its owner and interact with domestic environments (just type in “Gatebox” on YouTube). Rockets constructed under the SpaceX program fly up into the skies, heralding the dawn of the new space era. Smart homes, intellectual systems, neural networks, phones and gadgets working on advanced algorithms, quantum computers, bioengineering breakthroughs—these are just some of the wonders humanity is currently living side by side with. And, admitting the influence of technologies in all spheres of life, one question is bothering me: are all these “smart” things making people smarter?
Use the most powerful academic tools to write better with AI, check for plagiarism and detect AI content!
I believe the mobility and accessibility of technologies nowadays has made people less responsible and persistent. Gadgets have eliminated the need to train one’s mind, to memorize and plan things ahead; instead, it is usually enough to grab a smartphone to quickly calculate something, or schedule an appointment, or search for needed information on Google. I do not want to sound nostalgic, but I can remember the times when people used to memorize phone numbers of those they stayed in touch with. Not that this is better than dialing a number from your phone’s database, but there used to be at least some mental effort, some exercise for the brain. You had to make up mnemonic rules, or just learn numbers by heart—and there was some special charm about it. I can still remember the phone number of my first girlfriend, and how I used to call her late at night, and what we would talk about. It is not just about remembering a phone number—it is rather about the attitude and all the associations connected to each of these numbers. Today, I can hardly remember whom I talked to and what about: the amount of people calling, texting, or emailing me has increased exponentially, and it is not about me having become more sociable, but rather about how easy it has become to reach a person, and how little privacy there is left in the world. A phone can contain thousands of contacts, and without the need to memorize all of them, it has become harder to distinguish between important and unimportant ones.
I believe that before mobile technologies conquered the markets and the minds of people, they used to be more coherent and consistent. Arrangements or appointments once made could not be cancelled as easily as today. I think it is because people were less informed about the opportunities around them; of course, the Internet was already around, but without social networks and other sources of instant information, the variety of choices was more narrow. So, once you made an agreement—for example, to meet up with friends—even if there appeared some other activity available to you afterwards, you still adhered to your initial appointment. In the present, we see that relationships can hardly compete with the temptations a constant and powerful news stream throws at us on a daily basis. Exhibitions, concerts, events, workshops, lectures, entertainment—the spectrum to choose from is so broad that it is easy to get confused by it. You make an appointment with friends on Saturday night, and then Facebook sends you a reminder that there was that concert you wanted to go to on Saturday night. You spend a day or two weighing these two alternatives, and just when you decide to go to a concert (since it will not happen again once in awhile, and friends will be around anyways), your friends call you to apologize, because they have a sudden change of plans. “Let us meet some other day,” they say, and you release a sigh of relief, because it was not you who had to cancel the meeting first. And in this awkward situation, gadgets make it easier for people to behave this way; people stopped taking responsibilities for their actions and feelings. Before, if you had to cancel an appointment, you would probably have to talk to a person face to face; you would witness their disappointment, frustration, or maybe anger, and you would feel bad about it, and perhaps just to avoid all that, you would rather do your best to make that appointment happen at last. Today, you do not have to deal with other people’s emotions; you can send a text and hope for the best. Gadgets make communication depersonalized, and with depersonalization comes irresponsibility.
Yet another effect technologies have on humanity is that people have become less comfortable with taking risks. When I was a child, my parents would let me go hang out with my friends outside; I could spend all day God knows where, return home muddy, with my knees bruised—and on the next day, I could go out again (if only I did not do something bad, like stealing too many cookies from the cupboard). Come to think of it, my parents did a heroic thing: they did not limit my freedom for their own comfort. In an era when there were no cell phones—or, at least, kids did not own them—my parents would put their trust in me, believing that I would not do anything bad, would not get myself into trouble, and would return home safely. Of course, they were upset about my torn pants, scratches, and stains from stolen blackberries all over my apparel, but they did not establish control over every step I made. Particularly, this is because they had no means to do so—but also because they knew no other way to raise children. However, today I can see how parents control their children using the most sophisticated technological novelties. In the best case scenario, they call them on the phone every few hours or so; they monitor their children’s social media profiles, check their browser history, and equip them with GPS trackers.
In the most recent season of “Black Mirror,” a brilliant British TV show, there was an episode about a woman who implanted her daughter with a brain chip, allowing her to see through the girl’s eyes, or to “filter” what her daughter was or was not allowed to see. The idea of such a level of control is frustrating and scary—but, considering the mass hype over safety and security, such a scenario might turn out to be true. In approximately a decade or so, technologies will probably reach such a level when brain implants will not sound like something impossible; I wonder how human perception and behaviors will change by then.
In this essay, I mostly reflected upon mobile technologies, since they are the most widespread. I do believe that gadgets have made people less responsible, less eager to use their minds for planning and scheduling, and more exposed to all kinds of information temptations. I also believe that in the not-so-distant future, technologies will advance so greatly that the entire life of every individual on the planet will be soaked and influenced by them. And, considering how many spheres of science are currently experiencing a period of exponential growth and development, I find it almost impossible to predict, or even guess, what will happen to humanity next, and how it is going to change.
Follow us on Reddit for more insights and updates.