Manitoba·Opinion

Not so fast: Promises, perils of technology in the internet age

We live in a world of rapidly changing technology. The information technology field alone is alive with innovation. Everything from computers, mobile phones, cars and household appliances can now be connected to the internet.
Winnipeg-based freelance writer Sara Arenson says we're often too caught up just keeping up with new technological developments to consider how they're changing — or even negatively impacting — us. (Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens)

We live in a world of rapidly changing technology. The information technology field alone is alive with innovation. Everything from computers, mobile phones, cars and household appliances can now be connected to the internet.

It's easy to be a tech-booster when all you see are the many positives. We can speak to people halfway around the world, learning each other's languages in the process. We have apps that will remember details for us so we don't waste our precious short-term memory. Our cars have hands-free bluetooth and fancy diagnostic systems that alert us when something is malfunctioning. The day is also coming when everyday appliances like toasters will be able to connect to the cloud.

The next big tech release on the horizon is Windows 10. Set to hit the desktop and laptop market on July 29, this product promises to be streamlined to desktop and mobile devices.

To ramp up the excitement, Microsoft has been showing versions of the product at conventions, such as the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) gaming showcase and the Microsoft Build Developer Conference. Famously, the new OS will bring back the much-loved 'start menu' that was missing in Windows 8 and 8.1.

Not so fast

But is all this progress necessarily a good thing? As with all forms of technological change, this one comes with a steep learning curve. Also, the technologies we use for instant communication present a double-edged sword: on one hand we have a global village. But on the other hand, the rise of technology also creates situations where people feel left out, ostracized or shamed away from some digital circles.

Even those of us who study computers at some point can easily fall behind the learning curve. A person with a computer science degree from the 80s or 90s is constantly having to upgrade their technical knowledge just to hold onto a job. Imagine then the pain that older generations feel when they have to adapt to new interfaces just as the old ones have finally become comfortable.

According to market analysts, 250 million people are still using Windows XP, an operating system released in 2001. Microsoft has recently discontinued security support for this operating system — but still, people use it. That shows how much people loathe change.

Fearing change

This loathing doesn't just extend to desktop computers, either. The mobile space also has a steep learning curve, as any new smartphone user will tell you. Yet most of the new phones sold are smartphones, with it becoming increasingly difficult to find a simple flip phone at a kiosk.

Cars these days also feature increasingly sophisticated screens and controls, making it difficult to learn know how to tune the radio or turn on the air conditioning.

But these are just usability costs, though. They are inevitable in an era of such rapid change.

Dark side of internet

The darkest side of the internet revolution comes through in stories of how people treat each other. Notably, how youth are exploiting social media to hurt other youth.

Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons are two of the most famous cases of cyberbullying. Both girls committed suicide after being victims of sexual exploitation. In Amanda Todd's case, she was blackmailed into exposing her breasts via webcam. Rehtaeh Parsons was allegedly gang raped, with pictures circulating online afterwards.

This is not your mother's bullying. Because pictures and chat sessions can be saved, social media platforms like Facebook allow the promulgation of hate in a very public, ugly way. A big part of the problem, ironically, is the technophilia that drives us to share so much of ourselves online.

So when does technology cross the line from promising to perilous? The moment we forget our human purposes and let machines drive our goals. Machines are just machines. Humans must be the source of wisdom when it comes to using technology wisely.

As a society, we have much to learn about privacy. As for the technology makers, it really wouldn't hurt to slow down.

Sara Arenson is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and radio broadcaster.

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