Children are glued to these smart TVs, and teens to their phones, the adults using computers to get work done. Thus, their forebears are often left to struggle with figuring out this “new-fangled technology,” many of whom give up and decide that it is all useless, longing for the days of yore before technology had consumed the world they had known, calling said “gizmos” nothing but trouble. To be fair, those detractors of modern technology have something of a point, for the ease of access to information that the likes of the internet has provided society has been used with as much malice as it has been with good intentions.
Social media and entertainment, which are perhaps the biggest uses of internet technology, have historically been considered sources of poor influences on our youth. This leaves one to wonder if the advances in this technology coinciding with the twenty-first century have been worth the payoff of hackers, trolls, and the potentially negative influence of other humans on the children being raised generation-to-generation. After all, even psychological research seems to indicate that the media produced with the aforementioned technology may impact people by way of the so-called “Social Learning Theory,” wherein people, especially children, learn behaviours through observation and imitation.
While this “social learning” would normally happen with experiences “in real life,” social media has provided another avenue for us to learn behaviours. This is because actions such as leaving positive comments or liking videos featuring heinous actions or attitudes are happening in a public space, with the latter being given more attention than the former, which may desensitize people to the shock of such behaviours. Thus, it is the increasingly normalized widespread behaviour of said trolls and negative influences that may be negatively influencing people. And if it isn’t the negative behaviours of others online, there exists fears that “that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process,” so says Jaron Lanier, one of the inventors of VR.
Of course, many others have been quick to argue that “technology is the future,” enough so that many people of influence, including governors and athletes, advocating for all students to learn how to code, and hundreds of articles telling college students, recent graduates, and job seekers that computer science is the end-all, be-all for anyone hoping to have a career or make a steady paycheck. And one would be remiss to forget the fact that the modernity of internet technology has made it so much easier to keep up with each other. It is no longer necessary to be chained to one’s landline by the length of its coiled cord. Now, it takes moments to order cute shirts with Amazon Prime, or an Uber home after a night of drinks, or even donate to some Kickstarter for a promising innovation that could positively-impact lives.
Historically, there have been two camps when society’s communication technology is evolving: those harboring fear of said change, and the rushing towards this change. It was said that Socrates viewed the transcription of language unfavorably, while the printing press was lamented by the powerful literate. With this in mind, it is natural that the almost exponential expansion of the internet and all that is has entailed would be viewed with concern by some, and with excitement by others.
Here, I would like to quote Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, who said that “while technology is important, it’s what we do with it that truly matters.” Sure, the advent of internet technology may come with huge risks, many that have been borne out by the slew of scandals involving fake news and trolling, election tampering via social media platforms as well as massive breaches of personal data. But this technology has also opened the door wider for people to access, and act on, life-changing information like college through the Common Application, legal representation for sexual harassment victims through the “Time’s Up” campaign on GoFundMe, or simply finding love through the many dating apps that exist. Technology is important for making our day-to-day lives easier, meaning we can focus on more important issues such as economic development and improving social equity.
At the end of the day, technology is merely a tool with which humans may use for any number of reasons. Like a knife can be used to cut food into pieces, to slice away at inanimate objects, or stab a living being, internet technology can be used to build other people up, to get information out there, or as a medium to attack those one disagrees with. Internet technology does not have motive, nor intent, at least not yet (Google’s founders seem to be keen on using their search engine as a means of advancing the technology for artificial intelligence). Thus, we must remember that it is how we behave this technology that will determine the progression or decline of human civilization, not the fact that it exists. After all, internet technology might be the most powerful piece of human technology aside from thermonuclear warheads, and while it can most definitely be used to end lives, it can also be used to protect us from ourselves if we go about it thoughtfully.