Quick, when was the last time you wrote an actual check to pay a bill? Or used a phone book to look up the number of a local business?
Odds are, every facet of life that once was extremely hands-on has been reduced to a series of keystrokes.
- We send text messages populated with emojis to represent genuine emotions once expressed in words.
- We go on first dates via Skype with a smartphone screen replacing a restaurant table.
- We use email, Slack or Facebook to notify a boss when we’re feeling too sick to come into work.
Since the first desktop computers began reporting widespread sales in the early 1990s, personal communication has changed. We no longer interact with each other, or the outside world, in the same way.
Consider a 2013 report in Harvard Business Review: When residential electricity and home telephones were first introduced, it took 30 years and 25 years, respectively, for each amenity to be embraced by 10% of U.S. households. Yet, when smartphones were first introduced in 2002, it took just 10 years for the handheld, portable technology to become a daily accessory for 40% of our population.
Technology is a game-changer, no doubt. It has spurred groundbreaking developments in areas like research, healthcare and education. But few people seem willing to question the social cost of such advancements.
How Technology has Changed Social Relationships
According to the American Sociological Association, it falls to sociologists and other like-minded experts to analyze how different technologies have seismically impacted the way we relate to our jobs, our friends, even our families.
Sociologists also consider how technology continues to affect various cultures, and social organizations, including the ways that people have learned to modify advancements to suit their own purposes.
- Not long ago, it was breaking news to learn that more and more people, both married and single, were filling their free time by staring at a handheld device instead of talking or participating in shared activities. A 2015 CNBC report asked whether technology was killing our sense of human connection.
- Technology has since further changed the way single people meet, with the advent of dating apps that allow for intense scrutiny and quick decisions based solely on the information and photos another party provides about themselves. According to CNBC, even rejection no longer has the same emotional impact when an online algorithm can show you 50 or more possible compatible matches living less than 10 miles away. In many cases, people now choose to communicate almost exclusively through technology to avoid dealing with the reality of meeting in person.
- Even friendships can end abruptly in the digital age as people have learned they can un-friend one another in a matter of seconds, or essentially vanish from view by hiding behind social media settings designed to help an individual become a ghost.
There’s actual science to explain what such disruptions of basic communication can cause, according to a 2014 Huffington Post report. Epigenetics is a term that describes the way personal experiences can permanently shape an individual’s DNA. Similarly, constant viewing of social media applications like Instagram, where people often share the best version of themselves possible, can transform how we view others, even if it’s not necessarily based on reality.
Even parenting styles have been altered due to technology. Few people likely remember the dog-eared copy of “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care” that their parents may have consulted for answers. Today, there’s Google.
Punishing a child or a teenager is no longer as simple as banishing them to their room because that’s no longer the youthful equivalent of a gulag if they are plugged in. Likewise, more and more parents appear ill-equipped to detach their children from technology long enough to push them outside to play or complete a chore.
Technology also has given rise to new issues – cyberbullying, child endangerment, even a misrepresentation, often willfully, of both our children and ourselves as picture-perfect – something previous generations may not have faced.
But it has not been all bad. Parents can enable GPS tracking on a smartphone to find their children, they can impose restrictions on content their children can access online, and can instantly access their child’s a report card when the original copy somehow “vanishes” between school and home, according to a Huffington Post article.
Impact of Technology on Business
Technology has impacted, and in many cases improved, how we work, giving rise to a slew of innovations that are allowing professionals to better focus their skills to successfully complete critical tasks or to instantly communicate with colleagues in other states and countries.
But it also has crippled certain industries, forever changed others and given rise to a chaotic racket of misinformation that informs both public opinion and public policy. When Ted Turner founded CNN in 1980, the first 24-hour news channel was an anomaly with on-air anchors regurgitating the same stories ad nauseum from morning to late night.
In the years since, digital media has forced many newspapers and local television stations across the country to shutter due to a loss of advertising revenue and viewership. Today’s glut of round-the-clock news has devolved into a competitive dogfight between talking heads beholden to specific political views or special interests.
The traditional news cycle, which often meant readers and viewers would have to wait up to 24 hours for an update about an issue, has been replaced with a tsunami of speculation and leaked intelligence that often propels a breakneck pace whereby a politician can be accused of a mistake during breakfast, only to proffer an apology by lunch before resigning from office by dinner.