Technology is being bashed for killing our productivity, making us antisocial and abolishing the future generations from any creativity at all. While those accusations are not completely groundless, this way of thinking is extremely ungrateful for what technology has given us and completely misses the point that it is merely an ambivalent tool. Because of the easily scalable nature of technology, in the wrong hands it can have an unprecedented adverse effect onto an enormous amount of people. However in good hands it does and will continue to assist humanity significantly more than anything else we ever had.
All technologies have one characteristic in common — while they facilitate some actions over other, they are ambivalent towards their actual use. They merely provide us with a superior solutions to our existent problems and therefore posses an aura of ambiguity and possible misuses. Even though the prospect of better design and restriction of exploitations is still valid, technology at its core doesn’t have a moral compass or serve any political agenda. That is what humans do with it. A shovel has been a core part of human evolution but at the same time can be used to do significant harm to others.
Developing application is expensive but also exceptionally lucrative. Even if companies are motivated by a greater purpose, money is what they need for paying the rent and bringing food on the table. On top of that, the more customers a business has, the less expensive its services get and the more people experience the positive effect of its technology in their life. This alone is an often missed fact when people generally complain about ads and the budget companies put into marketing.
The moral table has somehow skewed in the past few decades, focusing more on generating profit and increasing time spent in the applications instead of solving a problem. News feed for example are no longer chronological and are abusing our human biases, flooding our brain receptors with dopamine and keeping us locked in for a substantial amount of time. Time spent on a platform means higher ads exposure and increased profits. Furthermore, we aren’t able to do our everyday tasks as effortlessly as before. Because of the overstimulation we get from those attention-seeking services, regular tasks have become dull and are often dismissed until they become urgent. The ratio of effort and reward of watching a reaction video on YouTube pales in comparison to cleaning the apartment. And here it becomes clear that we don’t merely pay for the services with our data, but much more with our time and attention span capabilities.
No matter how much we bash corporations like Facebook and Google for their unethical practices, we still use their services. The sheer scale of positive impact they have is often forgotten and ignored. The net influence of Google Search or Twitter is so deeply integrated into todays status-quo that having them not being developed could have greatly steered our development into a different direction. Furthermore, the amount of Open Source big corporations like Microsoft, Facebook, Airbnb and Google are developing pushes not only developers, but humanity as a whole forward.
You may ask yourself if the positive impacts compensate all the negative ones. A analogous question may be: Are casinos and gambling bad if they donate big part of their profits to charity? The only significant difference between them and the attention-seeking apps we use is the fact that we are aware of the detrimental and adverse effects gambling has on our life. However this is also changing. Both Android and iOS have implemented features alerting users of possible addiction to certain apps. Awareness towards internet overuse is growing and an increasing amount of people are monitoring and reducing their use of entertainment-focused websites.
But even that said, things happen and people can swiftly fall into an addiction-vortex of few applications, which they can’t escape. Cycling through Instagram, Facebook, Reddit and YouTube requires no effort and gives a non-interrupted stream of stimulation, making us feel good. Escaping it may be too high of a hurdle in some situations and might even require external help.
Alcohol has a similar problem which is partly solved by increasings prices and making a minimum required age for its use. Enforcing those restrictions onto application is unattainable and impractical. The purpose of the internet and its services is connecting people. The moment entering it requires a credit or ID card the diversity of information will drastically decrease. The free flow of thoughts will radically drop and one-sided, bigoted ideas will be the new status-quo.
This brings us to the core of this essay. Technology isn’t good or bad. It all depends on the way we use it. Throwing the baby with the bathwater always has unforeseen and often irreversible adverse aftermath. Just like alcohol: a moderate amount has positive effects, but abusing it leads you to a snowball of problems.
Simply deleting apps on your phone shows you don’t recognise the value they bring to you and society as a whole. The free flow of content on Instagram and Tumblr motivates and sparks creativity in a lot of people. Everywhere communication though Messenger, WhatsApp or mail application enables faster decision and actions. From time to time “stalking” your friends holiday pictures is the modern way of keeping up with many more people that you otherwise cannot do. Bashing and opting out of those services is the easy way out, dismissing their value and believing your life will be better without them.
Depending on your ambitions in life, having all those applications can significantly boost your chances of achieving your goals. Most of the negative effects of social media can be solved by mindful consumption. Knowing that most of the content is curated to your likings would hint that what you see is merely a one-sided opinion on a controversial topic. Knowing that most of the Instagram influencers don’t live the life they portrait would sidestep comparing your everyday life to theirs. Knowing that some angry tweets don’t mean the whole world is against you should make you think more critically and either help you build up a better defence around your opinions or change your position about the topic.
The ability to follow up distant friends, to get inspired and motivated by high quality content in all imaginable niches, to showcase your work for the world to see, to get connected to friends, family and people you look up to is just a small part that technology is offering us nowadays. You do have to pay a price for that, but focusing on why you are using those services and how they help you achieve your goals neglects the negative effects.
We live in an unprecedented state of rapid development. Technology isn’t perfect and there is no shortage of things to improve, but that shouldn’t stop you from mindfully using it and expressing your opinion about it. Nobody can say for sure where we are going to be in few years, but being at the forefront of the technological development assures you front seats to everything that is going to happen. It gives you the voice and the power to express your opinion and steer development in ways, you think are appropriate. Don’t be afraid of change — embrace it!