Waving or drowning in tech?

Updated: Mar 9, 2018

Technology is shaping modern life- but how much control do we have?

In the 1870s Anthony Trollope’s novel ‘The Way We Live Now’, examined the social climbing, greed and corruption which underlined Victorian society. Now in 2018, Trollope might find some things unchanged.

However, there is something undeniably different. From what we read, to where we shop and how we communicate, the way we live now is digital.

More than three billion people are registered on a social network[1], the majority of 18-24 year olds access their news online, and we spend so much time looking at screens that we now blink less[2]. We have books and blogs dedicated to ‘disconnecting’ ourselves from the online world, a feeling which has become stronger the more we progress and modernise.

This year the hunger for digital is only going to increase. Much of our daily lives are already immersed in technology, and this will be developing and infiltrating more sectors than ever:

  • Robotics and Artificial Intelligence is a major tech trend for this coming year. We already see AI in social media algorithms and image recognition, but its sophistication will only increase. Earlier in the year Elon Musk launched Neuralink, which aims to blur the boundaries between humans and machines. The South China Post recently reported that Alibaba has created a robot which surpasses humans in a reading test, for the first time ever. AI will be part of our everyday, as retailers, supermarkets and workplaces will be incorporating more machine learning to satisfy increasing demands for faster, streamlined services.

  • Technology’s real-life application inevitably raises ethical questions. Uber and Deliveroo are just two examples of companies whose employees report to algorithms rather than actual people. For Uber drivers, their livelihoods are dependent upon user ratings. The question of when digital services should take corporate responsibility was particularly relevant last year, as Uber lost its London license. Customer complaints and concerns over drivers’ credentials have forced Uber to abide by Transport for London regulations. Now, Uber has implemented caps on its drivers’ working hours in an effort to make its service safer.

  • Amidst all this technology it could appear we are moving further away from human interaction. However, machine learning will probably have the opposite effect. The industries and companies set to adopt new tech will also need to understand how and why people engage with apps and devices. Consumers want services that are personalised, meaning companies will need to focus on customer experience more than ever.

The digital influence can seem overwhelming, but this does not mean we cannot control how we use it. New technology has enabled more of us to work remotely, free from geographical boundaries. Those who adopt the ‘Digital Nomad’ lifestyle are a testament to how the digital age has transformed conventional work schedules.

At the end of last year, The Times recorded its highest sales for The Times literary Supplement since the 1980[3]s. Could this be a return to the books rather than screens? Recently Facebook announced plans to change its news feed and promote more “meaningful interactions”. This will refocus the platform towards human connections with family and friends. However, many critics are sceptical of whether this change will truly curb the propagation of fake news or improve its users mental state. What it does show is that these platforms cannot ignore the adverse impact posts can have on users.

The times are certainly changing. But will these advancements push us further apart, or further together?

[1] http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180110-the-vital-time-you-really-shouldnt-be-on-social-media

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/15/seven-ways-to-avoid-eyestrain

[3] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/readers-seek-slow-culture-in-the-times-literary-supplement-amid-digital-revolution-kr68xqntq

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