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The Evolution of Technology and What It’s Doing to Us

Almost everywhere I go, I find myself in conversations about technology. Sometimes, it’s a simple whine about how it’s making kids’ attention spans shorter. Other times, it’s a deep dive into how we can better leverage technology.

Robert Szczerba writes, “The advancement of technology generally evokes a range of emotions in people from all walks of life.  Some view technology as a great evil that slowly diminishes our humanity, while others view it as a way to bring the world closer together and to help solve some of our greatest challenges.”

In this article, I’d like to spark a conversation on the evolution of technology we’ve seen over the decades—and the changes we may or may not be aware of, that it has caused for mankind. Consider the following shifts.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

photo credit: via photopin (license)

1. It’s gone from public to private.

When I was growing up, television was the newest technology. We had one black and white TV set in the family room for all to see. The only screen was a public one, and everyone knew what program was on. As computers surfaced, it wasn’t much different. Families often had one computer, in the den or the kitchen and nothing was private…yet. Over time, we’ve expected personal computers to allow our viewing to be more private, although you could still choose to show someone what you saw on your screen. A short time later, the emergence of smart phones made daily viewing even more private. Today, we see smart watches that are only meant for one set of eyes. It’s a computer on our wrist. This fosters our ability to maintain privacy and relevance—which are good—but can shrink perspective and foster self-absorption.

Question: What do you believe are the pros and cons of this evolution?

2. It’s gone from generic to personal.

As technology has expanded, it has given people a longing for something customized and personal. In the beginning, the content we digested was generic, from radio to TV to record albums, everyone experienced the same media. As our population grew, people felt like a “number” and wanted something tailored to them. Technology allows this today, in hundreds of specific television channels, to on-demand programs streaming on our phones or tablets, to Spotify and Apple Music, which allow me to create my own play lists. The evolution continues to be more personal to me and adaptive to my environment and mood. This allows us to customize our viewing—which we all want—but can diminish our sense of community and empathy. Journalist Sydney Harris said, “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.”

Question: What do you believe are the pros and cons of this evolution?

3. It’s gone from informational to interactive.

In the beginning, technology usually allowed for information to be a one-way broadcast. Think radio, TV and cassette tapes. Over time, people expected it to work more like a telephone—allowing for two-way interaction. Today, both young and old alike prefer experiences to be interactive, from museums, to menus, to social media apps, like Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. It’s been said that our population has moved from merely consuming to curating: creating content for the world to see. We are enthralled. Why? People support what they help create. We want to own what’s being said; even to feel our life is improving by the interaction. Perhaps my friend John McAuley said it best: “There is no life-change without life-exchange.”

Question: What do you believe are the pros and cons of this evolution?

4. It’s helped us move from social to scalable…to both.

Down through the centuries, our communication and information have evolved. Centuries ago, information was transmitted in a personal, social method. It was face to face. People could only talk to those in close proximity. With the dawn of the printing press, we then could transmit broadly. It was less personal but it was scalable. You could get your message out to the masses. It was mass media. With the birth of the worldwide web, people could now do both—scale their message to anyone on-line, but also allow for receivers to network personally on-line. It’s both social and scalable. Our new system of technology allows for both automation and socialization. It offers a platform that is inclusive of everyone, but also empowers input from anyone. This is obviously good for human connection, but can make us lazy and impulsive unless we work at our emotional intelligence. Jonathan Sacks put it this way: “Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Thanks to technology, we can instantly communicate across the world, but it still doesn’t help us know what to say.”

Question: What do you believe are the pros and cons of this evolution?

In a Nutshell…

“The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential,” wrote Steve Ballmer. He’s absolutely right. Yet, we must remember to keep technology in the role of a servant. not a master. Over 70 years ago, Albert Einstein warned us, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. The human spirit must prevail over technology.”


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