By Junior Warden Professor Ian Ryder
I’m sure most people would agree that we have seen amazing increases in medical science and capability due to technology. From limbs to heart, from hearing to sight and from brain to research. All advances in these, and more, have been achieved through technology, even the world’s fastest ever vaccine development for tackling Covid-19.
In business, from marketing to finance and operations to research, every element of the business world has been impacted as technology has found a home to change almost everything in the way products and services are developed and delivered, and the way companies and organisations of all kinds deploy their new-found tech-toys.
And in our human existence, almost every aspect of the way we live and communicate has been changed forever by the application of technology.
There is an important question, however. Is anyone looking at, or considering, the consequences of this wide-scale embracing of technology that actually includes some very unwanted changes that are not at all changes for good?
Like it or not, there is a darker side to technology that we also need to understand and manage as we charge down this increasingly quick technology super-highway.
Let’s consider these in some broad areas, Economic, Social, Political and Human Daily Life.
I will draw on some existing observations made by my colleague, Dr David Pearson, for the first three of these.(ref 1)
One example is the death of our High Street leading to loss of business, jobs and convenience. Not all business simply moves online. Some is lost forever. For example, Woolworth, previously a major retailer of CDs and DVDs. After it closed the publishers found their overall sales fell as the habit of browsing had gone.
Traditional UK businesses pay their fair share of taxes. However, the US based tech giants organise their affairs, no doubt legally, but not morally, so that they pay very low taxes despite the fact that they use our services and our infrastructure like roads etc. , and in addition, they pay much lower business rates.
There is considerable evidence of failure to deal with countless posts on social media promoting self-harm, child grooming, pornography etc. Also, social media leads to psychological harm as people may exaggerate the “fun” they are having and others develop envy and self-pity.
There is a distinction between happiness and pleasure. Casinos, drug dealers, etc sell pleasure but create unhappiness. The same is true of Facebook which deliberately generates the need for a dopamine fix when you actually need serotonin.
This is not just about interference in elections. But it’s the idea that on social media you seek out your own kind and thus society has become excessively divided. Instead of open discourse there is closed mindedness. As advertising has moved to Google and Facebook, traditional newspapers are dying. This means a lack of proper local news and so a failure of local politics. Facebook doesn’t do local. Far too many people, particularly the young, get their news from Facebook which means it is not properly researched or edited. Fake news is dangerous.
Human Daily Life
I would suggest that it is likely that most people in today’s world have, at some time, been let down, frustrated, angered, wasted time, felt like they perhaps didn’t belong, sad, left out, abused, or indeed any other of the many effects which technology has created in our lives.
There is a huge body of research that has been undertaken to examine the effects of technology on the mental health of both children and adults, and the physical outcomes of a technology life that includes little or no exercise and fresh air. All of which, of course, impacts on healthcare provision and demand on the NHS, in addition to the human cost involved.
How many of the items in this short list of common, daily living experiences have you encountered? (with thanks for their inputs from esteemed colleagues, Mr Glyn Cartwright, Prof Malcolm McDonald and Dr David Pearson)
- “no-reply” emails – that actually require you to contact the sender
- Sign up pages that accept all your inputs and after a long time entering your life history just hang up and fail when you hit SUBMIT
- “Chat” lines which are either useless “bots”, or else require you to have account numbers etc before they will even speak to you, assuming they are working at all.FAQs which never have the question you actually want to ask
- Broken automated car parks
- SMART (??) motorways – disruption, environmental damage, costs and proven not to work
- Being asked for your email twice on forms – why just email, why at all??
- You have to take a phone with you to a restaurant now – and be prepared to scan for a menu, or even in a Mall for a directional map
- Banks are a major pain. Just one example. Opening a euro bank account used just to be go and see your bank and open it. Now we have to complete a 30 minute online questionnaire, repeating much information they already have. Then after submitting it they promise an acknowledgement in 48 hours…but you wait for 2 weeks for the confirmation. There are many examples of “regression” in the finance world.
- Many people use Amazon Prime or Sky. When watching via a streaming service you are at the mercy of your internet connection, often having some bad, unclear moments when viewing. Also, if you wanted to watch something and were unable to do so because of an urgent alternative commitment, quite simply you can’t because Prime won’t let you record. We have had the ability to record on video for over 40 years, and if you watch a video you have no delays or quality issues at all. Or indeed access to your own videos even if your internet was down!
- Last example, many of today’s youth are failing miserably at social skills. All are absolutely tech literate but put them in a person to person situation and discomfort, or total inability shows clearly.
These are just the tip of a huge iceberg of areas where technology, quite clearly and materially, does not show progression in the way we live or the services we use, or, very seriously, the way we as human beings are able to live and cope with the potential, and real, life situationswhich technology has developed.
Why does all this matter?
When the giants who created much of our technology world ban their own children, even employees, from using the platforms that they themselves created, surely we must sit up and take notice. (https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/the-tech-moguls-who-invented-social-media-have-banned-their-children-from-it-37494367.html)
No lesser names than Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Kevin Systrom (Instagram) have all taken action to ensure the safety of their own families from some of the dangers technology has created in our society today.
Clearly there are some major benefits, and in some amazing ways, like for example the farmers in the wilds of Africa using their mobile phones to let others know where to find water holes, who would have thought it?! But as we can see from this very short look at our world, that dark-side really should not just be ignored….what do YOU think?
2nd March 2012 The Threats and Opportunities of the Internet https://davidcpearson.co.uk/blog.cfm?blogID=183
9th May 2015 The Perils of the Internet https://davidcpearson.co.uk/blog.cfm?blogID=381
About the Author
Professor Ian Ryder, Prof Ian Ryder is a Liveryman and Junior Warden of the Worshipful Company of Marketors and is visiting Professor at Cranfield University, at Stockholm School of Economics in Russia and Thunderbird Business School, Arizona