Technology is all around us. In every walk of life, a whole host of tech both helps and hinders our progress at being autonomous and independent individuals. The effects of this reliance on technology is having an after-effect though, in that it is making society less intelligent at risk of it’s own destruction.
We are going to show how your gadgets and gizmos are a key part towards the social implosion of much of the world through its dominance of people's lives; de-educating the mind, casting aside traditional survival skills and changing the face of business. The problem is that often it is a technological advance for the business world that is socially destructive as what is good for business is not necessarily what is good for the employees within it. The big online advance is of course social media and as a result we will find ourselves looking at how being closer together does not necessarily provide for good results.
or “B00BIES” and har-de-har-har
Credit: darren-w-grayThe effect of technology in places of education can be traced back as far as the 1980’s when the use of calculators in the classroom was already as popular as mobile phones are today. Simple digital calculators became the playthings of teenage boys and the fascination of the number 5318008 generated pubescent sniggering.
As a result of the fast moving pace of technology, it is almost as though the education systems around the world have trouble keeping up and have to reactively take steps to ban either smart phones or even wrist-wear altogether, just in case the offending article is in fact a smartwatch.
For the larger part of the education system the use of calculators was restricted to the classroom lesson and banned from much of a child’s formal educational examination process. Long division was the norm and even when I became a grade A GCSE Maths student, showing a proof of working was worth more points on your exam as the answer itself.
Even as recently as 2011 though the evidence is there that there is concern with the use of calculators that are now a staple of primary school mathematics education. The British Government were prepared to investigate whether they should be removed.
Fast forward to today’s examinations and UK maths exam boards now have to publish guidance on what is and is not permitted although different examination vary in their rules.
It does take a maths genius to work out that the curves rate of change for y=r^3/3 is slightly humorous (and it did confuse Bartholomew J Simpson) but pushing forward the use of calculators in exams means that a child does not have to prove a point, merely state the answer and that it is true.
The Written Word
We can take this forward to the more general use of computers and especially that of the keyboard. Admittedly this article has been written on a computer and indeed only a few rough notes and a spider diagram are necessary to start off the thought process. Besides getting an increasingly bad case of repetitive strain injury, the overuse of typing on a keyboard, on a mobile phone or a touch screen means that there is less need for actual physical handwriting.
The need for the teaching of handwriting skills is far beyond that of being able to form words and understanding on paper, but also to practice the fine-motor skills needed to legibly put pen, or pencil, to paper. Try learning the scripts of kanji, hiragana and katakana that form the characters of Japanese language as a foreigner and you should be able to comprehend just how beautiful a language can be.
Far from simply being a case of being able to read and write, the development of research through technology has also meant that far from needing an education to work; a lot of research can now be done thanks to the indexing skills of web search engines such as Bing and Google. It is no longer the case that you need to remember how to make a basic fire and why you can do it rubbing two sticks together; you can just pull out your mobile phone and it will show you that and probably about a hundred different ways you can get that first spark or temperate life.
Research on the subject of research has been undertaken on many occasions and it is suggested that when people expect to be able to get access to information at ease with technology, then they have lower rates of recall to the information in their mind. Research undertaken in the US in 2011 suggests that in fact, the mind now recalls more about where to reach the information than the information itself; this would suggest to me that there is now an increased reliance on the Internet to know information.
It was the summer of 2012 when the UK was in the midst of an economic recession yet people were still happy. Millions were descending on the UK to watch the 4-yearly spectacle of sports, dance and flamboyance that was the modern summer Olympiad. For businesses though it was a rush indoctrination into new business methods; shops were having to have deliveries in the middle of the night, the rail network had to re-arrange maintenance to allow 24 hour services, and businesses had to accept that staff were just not going to want to go to work.
One promoted technology was the use of remote working via the Internet or closed networks to allow workers to be based at home. Although doing this ad-hoc is a good idea for the short period of a world class event; as a long-term strategy it needs to be effectively managed to ensure that business gets the same dedication for staff as well as affording them the same high quality resource of the company.
Implementing such a strategy needs a real shift in the management skills for anyone who is managing this change. There are significant elements of trust that are needed for it to succeed; from my experience of home working within consumer catalogue orders and technical support many colleagues would take the time to gently completely the least of work while focusing more on their Facebook game apps or browsing for shopping of their own.
More importantly however is the fact that remote working manages to isolate the workforce and the lack of social interaction in the workplace. Those working from home should stay transparent and be able to account for the work they are doing without feeling like their management are monitoring their every move in a quasi-Stasi stance. The problem is then that the company must make sure that there is appropriate regular contact from management teams to their workers to make sure that loneliness and isolation and the lack of social interaction around the water cooler does not become a problem.
More appropriately, companies should consider smaller working environments such as satellite offices where staff can work in a small social cluster but still having the autonomy of no direct physical management.
How social is social media? I mean, really, how social is it? I consider that social media is somewhat of an oxymoron as it does more to remove personable sociability to enjoy “friends” who appear on your screen that you might not have spoken to in a decade or more.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.netSo in a way, social media in fact isolates people more into their electronic devices; tablet computers and mobile phones and not bring people together to enhance a social experience. The original concept of Facebook such as, was for Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues certainly was not for the website to become so viral that it spans every continent and allows people to connect thousands of miles away.
The effect of social media websites such as Facebook means that friends are brought together over large distances, probably unlikely to see each other in a very long time and at the cost of friends that are in the physical neighbourhood. It is increasingly common for people to be using a smartphone for social media or other purposes when in a group, in the classroomor in the workplace.
From a physical isolation perspective, the smartphone is increasingly the way to chat. With developments in technology providing everything a person needs via the Internet, there is no longer a pressing need to leave the house.
Encouraging the Lone Wolf
One increasingly worrying trend for social media is the ability to encourage normally fantasist people to reach a mass audience and gain credibility. Whether we are discussing the ideologies of cult religion or the promotion of illegal or immoral acts; the use of technology has allowed those that would ordinarily have tried to stay hidden from normal society to find like minded people in the wider world.
When we consider the role of pornography in society, in the UK it was previously the domain of top-shelf magazines and "adult shops" which led to an effective regulation of the industry. Some might not consider it moral but at the same time it could be argued that the content within would be relatively inoffensive and those procuring it would need to have the bravery to admit their need to the local shop keeper. The Internet has made access to adult material across the range of extremities easier, the almost anonymous nature of entering credit card details to a vendor who is explicitly there to fulfil that desire means that it psychologically much less of a taboo.
The prevailing marked increase in extreme sexual material normalizes to the extent that it encourages a pro-extreme pornography mentality to such an extent that the UK Ministry of Justice considered that it actually increased the risk of committing a sexual offence.
We can also see that the same use of Internet, instant messaging and social media networks can allow people who would otherwise find themselves isolated in more localised and regional communities to express and gain favour with other like-minded people. We should consider that the online voice of what can be considered as toxic ideologies can encourage these people to act or work together towards action. The case of Anders Breivik, who killed 76 people in Norway in 2011, was understood to have links to right-wing extremists in the UK, having discussions with members of two movements both via social media and by attending events.
The Internet has inevitably helped ease this for Breivik and had the technology have not been there; it is possible that either the thoughts or the ability would have remained a fantasy for him.
Encouraging the Crowd
The emergence of easy to use communications, instant messaging and social network services also mean that people could connect with thousands of like-minded people around the world. This is significant because it means that the weight and call of any individual campaign can be massively increased compared to that of a local area.
When we look at the example of the 2011 London riots where large parts of the arrangement and management from the rioters was done via the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) software which is almost impossible to infiltrate. Figures from UK communications regulator OFCOM suggested that 37% of 16 to 24 year olds owned a BlackBerry mobile device and that is because the operating system of the BlackBerry handsets meant that data usage was relatively cheap. This meant that for the 72% of young smartphone users, the use of instant messaging services was crucially all about using the data in cheapest way possible.
The development of information technology has also made it easier for organisations with a terrorist agenda or other issues of unrest to not only organise themselves but also to further their reach of cause. It was as recently as September 2013 that Somali militants attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi and were using Twitter to give both a running commentary of their attacks and an insight to why they were taking the action in the first place.
This could be considered as the tip of the iceberg though where the Internet can be shown to allow organisations such as al-Shabaab to carry out a massive amount of tasks online and instantly that would have otherwise been laborious, costly or not worth doing.
In a similar way to Anders Breivik, people with a need to show their allegiance to a group or cause would find it difficult to do so without physically asking people for information which besides being exposed as a sympathiser would also take some time; but access to the Internet means that information can be openly published and researched as well as more readily access contact information from any part of the world.
Organisations now have more readily available access to people who may have become sympathisers to the cause for one reason or another, contact via e-mail and social media where before; a physical presence might have been necessary means that more people can be radicalized much more readily regardless of their location and the size of any organisations "recruitment network".
It's Not All Bad
Despite the doom and gloom though the Internet can be a happy place. Many people have met old friends and new and have gone on to meet partners, wifes and find children long lost.
Admittedly I now rest most of my life around the likes of Facebook and the wider Internet. Most of the the research that I have done for this article was done on Google, I met my wife on an Internet dating site and she lived far enough away that we would not have met "naturally" and I have re-found long lost ex-girlfriends who are now jealous that I am married.
So the Internet to an extent can be considered as a good thing, but it is also slowly eroding some of the most important abilities we learn to be able to function as normal members of society. It encourages lawlessness and disorder as we have shown above as well as isolation from our peers and work colleagues in favour of a digital age.
some images are courtesy of freedigitalimages.net