Technology is meant to make our lives easier, and we have certainly become accustomed to its conveniences. We can now find anything that we want to know with the world’s biggest library right at our fingertips. The question is whether this abundance of technology has made us lazy and dependent on it or if it has made us more efficient and productive?
The World at Our Fingertips
American Writer, Joseph Krutch (1893-1970) once said,
“Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable.”
Krutch could probably have never imagined the world in which we live today. Now, technology makes it possible to live your entire life without even leaving your house. You can enjoy a movie, socialise with friends, order something from a restaurant, order your groceries, play tennis, or go virtual mountain biking all from the comfort of your living room. There is no need to shower, get dressed, and drive to do these places. The big question is whether all of this convenience has become too convenient for our own good.
Let’s take a look at obesity and health trends. Our ancestors had to spend much of their day procuring food, and this meant heavy labour. Now, for many of us, our next meal is as close as our smartphone. According to the World Health Organisation, over 600 million people around the world are obese, and nearly 1.6 million young people are overweight, but is technology the only thing to blame?
One could argue that technology is linked to a decline in health and an increase in obesity, but technology can also be used to promote health. Wearable trackers are big business. People use them to track steps, keep track of blood pressure, and to keep tabs on sleep quality. In this way, one could say that technology is not the only cause of obesity on a global basis, even if it is a contributor for many.
Have We Become Too Dependent?
To explore the question of whether we have become too dependent on technology, try asking a teenager how to plan a trip route using a map book. With the navigation system giving turn-by-turn directions, you no longer have to worry about stopping to ask directions.
Technology has made getting lost as an excuse for being late almost obsolete, but a fine line exists between using technology as a tool and using technology as a crutch. Each of the tasks that we now do on our smartphones used to require us to learn a specific set of skills. For instance, to record a video, you had to learn to use a video recorder and edit tape by hand. Now, your smartphone does all of these steps for you. Instead of taking months to make a short film, you can create it in minutes and distribute it throughout the world in the same length of time. We can now do more, but we do not have to learn as many new skills to do them.
Technology makes us smarter, but it also makes us less smart at the same time. We now have more technical skills, but many have lost the ability to grow their food or hunt. As technology becomes smarter, we no longer need to learn certain skills because technology does it for us. There is a term for this. Building human skills into a machine is called “blackboxing.” The user does not see all of the things that are going on inside when their smartwatch gives them a blood pressure reading. They no longer have to learn to use a blood pressure cuff because the watch gives them a number.
The question now becomes with the technology available to do all of these things if there is any reason to learn those skills at all, or if those skillsets are now obsolete. To examine this question, let us consider what would happen if cyberattacks suddenly disabled this technology that we have come to depend upon. Currently, the U.S. Naval Academy has decided to once again train their officers to navigate a ship using a sextant, just in case cyberattacks would disable their complex navigation computer systems. Many people have become dependent on these systems, but if they should break, the question is whether we could still survive, or have we lost those skills, too?
Re-engineering Our Lives and Relinquishing Control
There is another dark and ominous side to our dependence on technology. We have agreed to give up more control over our decisions in life than we care to admit. How many times have you downloaded an app and clicked to agree with the terms and conditions without even reading them? Do you know what you just signed up for? This is putting your trust in a business whose only wish is to protect itself or increase its quarterly profits. They do not necessarily have your best interests in mind, yet we allow them to access and peddle our data to the highest bidder without even a thought.
Technology can make us lazy, whilst also making life much more comfortable. We can experience things through the web that we might never get to experience in person. We can tour a museum, or go on a hike in the wilderness, and we can attend virtual events. We can have many experiences right from our computer screens, at least it feels like we do. Why would someone want to go to the Louvre, when you can see everything online? There are many reasons.
Seeing something in person is a different experience than viewing it on a small screen in front of you. You cannot experience the vastness and expansiveness of Westminster Cathedral from your computer screen. Life is about more than the visual and audio experience. Have we become lulled into the illusion that these other sensory experiences have become obsolete, too? Are we willing to accept the virtual world as a replacement for the real one, because experiencing the real world takes effort?
Conclusion: Technology Making People Lazier
Technology was supposed to make life easier and make us more productive. It takes the burden of needing to learn complex skills away from us. This is supposed to free us so that we can pursue more advanced knowledge. However, with it seems to come sometimes inherent laziness, an unwillingness to engage in difficult issues, even when it comes to making daily decisions. It seems that it has become easier to let a piece of technology make a decision than to do the research and consider one’s individual wants and needs. This is the real cost of technology. Technology has made us more than just physically lazy as we spend hours lulling away the day in front of our screens. The question is how much control and free will are we willing to sacrifice for these conveniences.