Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Problem with Technology

Glass cellphones... brilliant
About a month and a half ago, an Orbital Sciences rocket exploded during liftoff. Although nobody was injured from the explosion, hundreds of millions of dollars of supplies and equipment were destroyed in a matter of seconds. The fireball, which could be seen for miles, stunned observers; many hadn't even seen a lift-off before, much less an exploding one.

Only three days later, another space-related accident occurred: during a test flight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, a premature wing rotation due to pilot error resulted in the destruction of the spacecraft, killing one of the two occupants and severely injuring the other.
These technological accidents may seem out of the ordinary, but they are actually quite common. All throughout history, humans have suffered accident after accident related to their own technology. Even if they do not make the news, small accidents happen every day: a car breaks down, somebody drops a light bulb, or some files are deleted by a virus. Most people rely on technology to make their lives easier, but technology does not always improve people's lives. More often, it worsens them.

Look at digital technology, for example. Computers were originally built and designed to make people's lives easier by speeding up calculations, and now they're everywhere. People carry their computer-powered gadgets to every corner of the globe; in 2013, more than 1.8 million mobile phones were sold worldwide.

But digital technology has many problems.

One of the biggest problems with digital technology is the maintenance required. Malware especially comes to mind; last year, 31.53% of all computers in the world were infected by malware. Y2K was another particularly well-known problem; although very little happened in the end, an estimated total of about $500 billion was spent preparing for it worldwide.

The cost of buying digital technology is also a significant disadvantage. On Amazon.com, a Samsung Galaxy S3 costs about $260. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly salary in the U.S. is about $24.50, so the average person would have to work for more than 10 hours to buy a smartphone. If the smartphone doesn't save at least 10 hours of the owner's time, that time is lost forever.

Even if a person manages to avoid maintenance and purchasing costs, there are still other problems that come from technology usage itself. One common way that people spend time on computers, for example, is by using Facebook. Facebook allows users to constantly socialize and communicate with each other, so it might seem that it would have positive results. Not so. According to a University of Michigan study published in 2013, Facebook usage has in fact been linked with a negative impact on happiness. This is the complete opposite of the results that Facebook ought to have.

So those are some of the disadvantages to digital technology. What about the other sorts of technology? The automobile is also a common technology. Most people agree that cars save a lot of time, but do they really?

A study conducted by the non-profit organization AAA shows that an average sedan in the United States costs a little over $10,000 per year, due to such expenses as maintenance costs, fuel costs, insurance, taxes, and finance. To afford this, an average citizen would have to work for around 400 hours per year, or a little over an hour and a half every workday, without holidays. And then there's the time spent driving the car to a repair shop, time spent pumping gas, and time spent working on the taxes for the car. So in reality, cars don't really save that much time after all.

But that's not the only problem with cars. Another problem is the number of accidents they are involved in. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, an estimated 9,754,000 vehicles were involved in crashes in 2012, and 21,667 of the people involved in the crashes were killed. The people who lived had to deal with the damage, which cost money and time. And the people who died paid the highest price that can be paid in this world. In this light, perhaps cars don't serve humans as well as they should.

Of course, there are still numerous objections to these claims. One possible objection is that the time spent maintaining devices is time well spent, because otherwise nobody would do it. But simply because a person spends time doing something doesn't mean that the time is well spent. For example, the average male between ages 8 and 18 plays more than 16 hours of video games per week. Most of this time could be spent in better ways, such as studying, and yet it is still spent on video games. The same applies to technology; people might serve their technology because they see benefits, and fail to decide whether those benefits are worth the necessary time and work.

The U.S. job rankings are particularly good at showing what technology does to society. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, customer service representatives rank 7th out of all American jobs. That's almost 2.5 million people who make their living chatting with people about problems with technology. There are more customer service representatives than freight, stock, and material movers. Technology clearly doesn't do what people expect if that many people are necessary just to solve the problems with it.

Admittedly, the problem is a subtle one. In many cases, the work a person does for technology is eventually paid back in some way or another; the fast arrival of an ambulance is a particularly good example of human victory over technology. Nevertheless, technology should be used with caution. As the October rocket explosion and the SpaceShipTwo disaster demonstrate, technology does not always serve mankind.

It has a mind of its own.

New posts every month - subscribe for free!

No comments:

Post a Comment