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Technology: For Good or Ill?

Well, good news on the home front regarding Syria! Boris Johnson & Daniel Hannan pretty much spell out my views, in case anyone was wondering what my views on parliament voting down the war. (Not to say anyone is wondering of course). However, today I am turning my attention to a topic of a different sort: the topic of technology and how it affects our daily lives and that of our culture as a whole.

The “digital revolution” of the internet, mobile phones, and now “smart phones” has changed our lives forever. This blog (for good or ill) would have no way of existing without this advancement in technology. Yet I wonder, was this change good for us as a people? Was it good for our relationships? Does having information at our fingertips improve or damage our daily lives? I don’t by any means have the answers, and I need your help, life experience, and perspectives to gain a better understanding on what to think of the digital revolution. Below is a list of the “pros” and “cons” of the digital age.

Pros:

1. Greater Access to Knowledge. Information in the age of the internet is literally at our fingertips. The internet is the grandest encyclopedia the world has ever seen. We can find out as much as we can about whatever interests us by just simply researching the topic. In the time before the internet my knowledge of what was going on in Britain would largely be limited to what the America news chose to report (which I have found out is usually WAY off topic from what the actual story is about), what British news magazines chose to include and maybe what books I could find in the local library. Now I can read most any newspaper (although The Times charges you) or watch many videos on YouTube or talk to people in Great Britain instantly without having to set foot on British soil! Britons can do the same for Australia, and if any of us are lucky enough to speak a foreign language (like my “Latin American-phile” friend) we can learn about countries previously seen as exotic. We can also find almost any song or find out the latest sports information, instantly. The internet has truly increased our access to knowledge.

2. Building and Strengthening of long distance relationships. I know from personal experience the internet has a way of building bonds that would have been impossible to build in the “phone age” of the 20th century. My now-fiance and I spent much of the first year we were dating apart from each other. We were in school and she spent her summer back with her parents in California and spent the following semester studying abroad in Rome. However, with Skype we could see each other and talk, with Facebook messages (emails for all practical matters), we could communicate in a long and thorough way, similar to how courting was done in the era before phones- with letters that strengthened our bond. Without this technology, it would have been very difficult to stay in contact during this period. The same goes for friendships from school years or those who live far away. Technology, whether on phones or on the internet, has a way of keeping the person you wish to associate within your life. Online dating has also helped lonely people previously afraid to leave the house find successful relationships.

3. Democratisation of the Press. Before the internet, one had to rely on a very small group of people for all your news. There were newspapers and television but you heard what they chose to report on, they almost shaped the conversation. In the UK, there was more diversity in the press. In the US, there was very little conservative media until the emergence of Rush Limbaugh and right-wing talk radio. In places like the Soviet Union one was limited to what the government chose to tell you. This all changed with the advent of the internet. Now people choose who to get their news from, what viewpoint they want to hear, and what topics they want to hear about. Many Americans use sites like the “Drudge Report” or “Huffington Post” (the latter is also in Great Britain) which are purely internet creations for their news, and some even get most of their information from blogs! I actually find out important news (such as the death of Bin Laden) usually first on Facebook. With technology, news has changed forever.

4. The Decline of Bar Fights. Before “smartphones” people often had very drunken arguments about facts at bars that could turn into violent confrontations. Now with smartphones the answer is just a click away, saving many from jail or hospital time… or both!

Cons 

1. The Decline of Civility. For whatever reason, many people think on the internet being mean and rude is perfectly acceptable. Look at some of the comments posted under the Telegraph articles I post at the beginning of the blog: they are cruel, they are usually not thought-out and they are usually unnecessarily personal. This utter lack of regard for decency can be seen all over Twitter, in YouTube Accounts and even on Facebook. “Cyber bullying” has even driven some teenagers to suicide. And the interesting thing about these “cyber bullies” is almost none of them would be that mean to the authors if they saw them in person. Do you think all these “keyboard warriors” would say one mean thing to the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, if they met him? I highly doubt it, they might even be super nervous to be in the presence of a “celebrity”. However, while “cyber bullies” are less likely to be cruel in public, the digital revolution is leading to a decline in manners in other respects- mainly an unwillingness to engage the person in front of you in favour of playing on your smartphone. Unfortunately, I have been guilty of this too, and as this Telegraph article points out, the problem is especially rampant among younger people. (The article talks about British youth specifically but the exact same issue exists in the US).

2. The increased access to pornography and the immense damage it is doing to peoples’ views on sexuality. The internet came, famously, with internet pornography. It has transformed pornography into one of the largest industries in the whole world. Putting religious sexual ethics aside however, people often forget pornography is not a victim-less vice. Many of the women and men who work as porn actors are degraded and exploited to simply being appreciated for their bodies and not their minds.  Pornography takes the “love” out of making love and sells sex in a purely carnal manner.  But even if one argues that casual sex is the norm of the modern age, and that pornography simply gives informed adults the pleasure they seek, people often forget that it is not just adults looking at internet pornography, there are many, many uninformed, impressionable children looking at pornography. According a study produced by the NSPCC and commissioned by The Daily Telegraph in a survey of 11- to 18-year-olds, “28 per cent said that online pornography dictates how they should behave in a relationship, 32 per cent said that it “sometimes” informs how they act when with a partner, and 36 per cent said that they get their information about sex from the internet rather than parents or teachers”. This shows the horrible influence of internet pornography on children. If children think that how to act in pornography is how one should act in relationships, they will likely as adults be unable to form healthy relationships, will contract many STDs, and will likely live sad, miserable lives. Thus, I agree with the Telegraph’s recommendation for modernising sex education to address internet pornography. I also tentatively support David Cameron’s plan for internet filters on pornography to protect children, but want to make sure the technology and rule is implemented in a very narrow way.

3. Outright addiction to smartphones and digital entertainment . In this digital age, many people have found themselves so addicted to their smartphones that their financial priorities have been skewed. Sometimes, their smartphone and internet are some of the last expenses to be cut (if ever) in times of financial hardship. According to a Leeds Building Society survey of those who had to cut their expenses in the last two years: “just 14 per cent had cut back on home internet services, and 25 per cent said they now spent less on mobile services – although this may mean they have switched to a cheaper tariff rather than abandoning their smartphones altogether. Only 17 per cent of respondents overall said they would be willing to give up their home internet services if it came to the crunch, although a much greater proportion – 38 per cent – would consider giving up their mobile services. Regionally, people in London were the least likely to give up their home internet arrangements (83%) or mobile services (64%). The 25 to 34-year-old age group was the most unwilling to reduce their outgoings on smartphone bills, while – perhaps surprisingly – it was those aged 55 and over who were least likely to slash their spending on home broadband services.” Now, some could argue smartphones and internet are now a necessity, especially for finding jobs. That may be true but I’m just pointing out how unable to part with their smartphones people are, almost to the point where they “cannot live” without them.

4. Justin Beiber. Youtube gave us Justin Beiber and with it his “music” and “Beiber Fever” and “Beliebers”. The music world has been damaged forever.

What do you think? Do you agree with my points about the digital revolution? What other issues would you raise?

About Ted Yarbrough

Profile photo of Ted Yarbrough
Ted is the co-founder and editor of the Daily Globe. He is a long-time blogger on British politics and has written a thesis on Thatcherism. He is based in Dallas, Texas, USA.

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