Even a cursory look at the impact of technology on the society causes one to sit up and take note of how it is changing our lives in dramatic ways. Most of us, if asked, would agree that sometimes we are forced to ask the question: how did we ever do without modern technology?
The past 20 years have seen a dramatic increase in the massive impact that the internet, the cellphone and social media are having on virtually every aspect of our lives and on society in general. A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project raises questions about the value of “connectedness” that comes with increased use of the internet and cellphones by families.
There is an old maxim which says that death is the great equalizer but with the advent of technology, there is perhaps a case to be put for cellphones as a very strong contender for levelling the field with the pervasive gadgetry that is literally in your face.
In Barbados, there is vehicle for every four people, but if a survey or a cell audit were to be carried out, the findings might be astounding. I would hazard a guess that in a population of 270 000, among adults there are probably two cellphones for every individual. The ratio among young people between 18 and 25 might suggest that some people have more than two cellphones.
There are families living in abject poverty but the cellular technology has not eluded them. Children as young as five years old are seen using cellphones on their way to and from school, even though such is prohibited.
Out of the world’s estimated seven billion people, six billion have access to mobile phones. Only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets.
It is impossible to discuss cellphone availability without a corresponding focus on internet access and the almost limitless connectivity which it affords from the poorest to the richest countries and individuals around the world. In the United States, 77 per cent of the population, or 239 893 600 people, have access to the internet. With respect to Facebook, 43 per cent or 133 518 980 Americans are users. (www.internetworld stats)
This level of connectivity is great for business and to a large extent it has literally shrunk the world, once thought of as a global village. Not only has it reduced the world to a palm-held device with global reach, but it has had significant impact on access to information.
While commerce continues to celebrate the tremendous benefits of technology access and global connectivity, the family, though being a beneficiary, is also a victim. Technology is allowing parents to create a “new connectedness” with their children, but old habits are dying as a consequence. Families “with multiple communication devices are somewhat less likely to eat dinner with other household members and are also more inclined to be dissatisfied with their “family and leisure time,” than families who own less technology. Television watching, a group activity, is also being replaced in large numbers with internet browsing. (www.findingdulcinea.com.news)
This tremendous shift in information access that has been occasioned by mobile technology and internet connectivity has changed the tone, nature and texture of human relationships at home, in the workplace and between and among nations.
Technolgical advancement has been so swift and ever-changing, that we have not had any time either to negotiate or comprehend the need for a special set of rules to mitigate the impact on the human condition. While the advancement has been overwhelmingly positive, we are yet to fully grapple with the implications for social relations.
It is this challenge which calls for urgent attention if we are to avert a gaping chasm between man and his own inventions.
• Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education, and a social commentator. Email [email protected]