I am aware that this topic has been touched upon many times already, but certain painful observations over the last weeks have led me to write this post. Forgive me if my analysis will seem shallow, as I know the problem is much more sophisticated and complex than I am able to address here. But I think even simple observations are worth mentioning.
In the new technology industry, we talk a lot about changing the world, connecting people, making life easier etc. We market our work as not only fulfilling our own ambitions but having influence on the world. And it is all true, the new technology is changing society inevitably but many times not in the way we should be proud of. I am lucky to be able to be around very different environments and groups of people. But some of the changes I have observed in the last decade have been at times very worrying.
I see it in meetings with friends, when people try to talk to me while constantly texting someone else, not being able to let themselves give their whole attention to one person. (or maybe I’m just very boring)
I see it in families, where tired parents come home and instead of spending time with their kids, they avoid them. Ignoring children who beg for their attention, they spend the whole evening staring at their smartphones.
I see it riding the subway, where every little child has a smartphone/tablet at their hands and cannot sit peacefully without it.
I see it in my friend who sunk his whole life including work and free time in video games. He avoids more and more any meetings with people because real life situations are more and more stressful for him. He does not have the strength to overcome it.
I see it when my friends tell me how hard it is to meet someone interesting in “real life” and how necessary is to use an app for that.
I see it when people tell me that they prefer to text someone instead of meeting because it is easier and less stressful.
I see it when waiting for a meeting or class with a group of people I do not know. The awkward silence which some time ago was forcing people to interact with each other is right now forcing everyone to stare at their phones to avoid weird eye contact.
These are not exaggerations – each of these examples I experienced many times.
Yes, technology makes many things easier, but does easier always mean better? Don’t take me wrong, I am a person who is fascinated by the opportunities given by new technologies and am passionate about exploring them. I am also personally involved — I am not sure if I would get married if not for Skype and Whatsapp. But I also feel that we as engineers, creators, and preachers of new media have a huge responsibility – the way we think, we use, we promote, influences in bigger or smaller degrees how the change in the world is happening. I think now — when we try to design the new world where VR will be accessible to everyone — is the right time to think how the technology will be used and take into account also the possible negative influences and ways to avoid them.
Image from: https://medium.com/@storycentral/
2 responses to “Responsibility”
so true- we should all unplug more!
These are great points and I think your title nails the fulcrum: What is our responsibility towards those who come with and after us to think about the (perhaps unintended) consequences of designing and deploying tech that can hamper social interactions? Sherry Turkle’s last book also had some important insights (though I think she was too single-mindedly negative about the potentials).