Should Our Love Affair With Digital Really be Over?

on November 22, 2017
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Over the weekend, I read this story arguing that our love affair with digital was over. Although I see some of the trends David Sax is outlining, I am not certain they can all be blamed on our growing distrust of technology. More importantly, I do not think technology per se is to blame here, we are!

The article brings up many negative effects of technology on our lives: stress, jobs loss, impact on human interactions. But when you think about it, it is not technology in itself to be at fault but rather how we use it.

Technology is not the Answer to Everything. We just like to think so!

Over the past few years, I think three major things occurred that impacted our use of technology. First, innovation happened at a pace that we had not really experienced before. Second, because of the lowering price of technology, a much broader number of people were exposed, either directly or indirectly, to such innovations. Finally, technology has also become more “human-friendly” making it easier for people to embrace it.

The problem with having so much technology at our disposal is that we started to think technology could solve any problem and could be the answer to everything. Education is a very good example. Many schools added gadgets of different kinds, but teachers did not change how they teach. They simply substituted paper with screens. Others added gadgets and apps but mostly to replicate what the teacher used to do, just maybe a tad more personal.  The answer to more engaged, smarter, ready-for-life kids is to first look at how we teach and then look at how technology can help us deliver. We should not turn to technology first.

While we might be concerned about AI taking over our jobs we should recognize the many opportunities technology has enabled over the past few years. Apps and services that reached millions of people overnight as well as start-up incubators and a maker fair movement that allowed talent to stay where it was born while still accessing an international stage.

Sometimes, we also rely on technology out of convenience, after all, technology is supposed to make our life easier. There might be different ways to perform a task involving different levels of technology, but convenience drives us. This is fine when convenience meets effectiveness and drives the highest results, but it is less so when convenience is driven by laziness. The choice is on us not on the technology that is available.

The Limitations of Analog

Some of the technological changes we are undergoing are certainly scary especially if you are easily impressionable by movies like “Her”!  When it comes to this analog revival, however, I don’t believe that some of the rediscovered love for books or vinyl is necessarily a rejection of technology. The revival of books has a lot to do with the increased popularity of local bookstores where customers feel they are supporting a local business, they build a relationship with the people who work there and get more personal recommendations. In a way, this is no different than the growing popularity of local, independent coffee shops.

Is the love for vinyl really about technology and sound or a broader statement about what music as an industry used to be? The other side of the coin though, is that technology empowered artists that might have never had the means to become a worldwide success – the UK band Glass Animals is a good example.

As far as human interaction, it certainly does not have to disappear because of technology. While there might be some of us that have become more comfortable chatting on messenger than in real life, many still enjoy grabbing a coffee or a beer with friends. Not having access to technology, however, would make social interactions impossible for many people. The classic video chat ad that shows grandparents and grandkids is a reality at our house, as my mom lives in Italy and we only see her once a year. Technology is how we remain part of each other’s lives, in a much vibrant way than old phone calls allowed us to do.

Technology is also what allows people with disabilities to have richer social interactions and more widely live a fuller life. Think how 3D printing is revolutionizing prosthetics or how support for voice over allows visually impaired people to read or see through the description given to them.

Turning Our Love Affair into a Happy Marriage

I do realize that talking about turning our love affair into a happy marriage only shows I have been in a relationship for a long time! But I do think this is the key. That passion and excitement resulting in sleepless nights, stomach butterflies, lack of appetite that spark the start of many relationships turn into a more “sustainable” set of feelings that does not make it less “love” but maybe allow us to get a bit more in control of our life and the relationship itself. I feel the same is true with technology.

After being swept off our feet by what smartphones enabled: always on, an app and service culture, social media, we need to regain some control. We need to pace ourselves, find some “me time”.  Such balance can be reached in different ways, either by embracing analog again or actually using more tech. At the core, however, such balance will only be possible if we understand that we are in control and not controlled by the technology that surrounds us. We have the power to unplug!