Technology has always impacted the way we do life, but I’m not sure if we recognize just how it’s changed us along the way. Whenever new gadgets or devices enter our daily life there is usually an upside and a downside. In the century following the Civil War, a handful of technologies revolutionized our existence. Consider some examples:
- The light bulb extended our day and created the workaholic.
- Electric appliances sped up our tasks, easing drudgery but reduced our strength.
- The jet engine collapsed distance, as did radio and television, but raised expectations.
- The air conditioner pushed us all indoors on hot days, reducing vitamin D levels.
- Computers increased obesity levels, creating an industry called “fitness centers.”
- Smart phones accelerated the transmittal of information, yet raised stress levels.
As we look ahead into 2018 and the near future beyond this year, new technology has me both excited and concerned about our lives and our children’s lives.
The Good News and the Bad News
For instance, this year we can expect to spend more time talking to devices like Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home Products and now, Apple’s HomePod has entered the competition. We can talk—even rudely and impatiently—to gadgets to get what we want. Soon, we’ll have to remember that when we talk to humans, we may have to exercise a little social grace. I have written before that technology has already diminished our emotional intelligence. We’ve become socially and emotionally lazy, thanks to all the screens in our lives.
The Tesla 3 Model will be finally seen by the common American. Elon Musk and his team have been working on this car for a while, and thanks to smart technology, it will be able to (almost) drive itself and avoid most accidents. According to Washington Post journalist Geoffrey Fowler, “Tesla is forcing all car companies to act more like consumer tech companies, pushing into electric and making standard such capabilities as accident prevention and connectivity.” Soon, the cars will be able to make decisions on who survives—should an inevitable accident take place on the road. Wow. Is that OK with you?
A year ago, Pokémon Go Introduced us all to augmented reality, where digital additions were added to real experiences. My son played the game and enjoyed finding virtual creatures in public places or even in our front yard. Well, we’re about to find out if this is more than an entertainment gimmick. Magic Leap plans to unveil a new product that transforms your smart phone into a search engine, an interior design tool or a teacher. They call their soon-to-be-released Magic Leap One gadget—a “lightweight, wearable computer (glasses) that enriches your experience in the real world with digital content.” My question? Will real life become boring, when our spouses or friends fail to entertain us enough to hold our attention? Think this is a joke? Two countries are considering legislation for two-year marriage contracts, because a lifetime just seems too long and monotonous.
The Scariest Realities Coming Our Way
Journalist Geoffrey Fowler is both excited and worried. And, he adds, we have more reason now to question everything. We need to evaluate the implications of every new product or service that’s introduced. After looking at the data, I tend to agree.
For example, if you think the 2016 election process and political campaigns were brutal, it was only the tip of the iceberg. Smart technology that can determine what you prefer and recommend content to read, watch or listen to will further divide us on political and social issues. Smart technology is beginning to shape our lives in a thousand different ways. It can even be used to create fake content that, according to Geoffrey Fowler, already has a sinister name: “counterfeit reality.” My question: just because we can use it, does it mean we should use it?
What’s more, if you think 2017 was a scary year of computer hacking, get ready for even more. Did you know that last year the majority of Americans were victims of a cyber-attack? Remember Yahoo! and Equifax? Such cyber-attacks are expected to increase. In the words of Kevin Kelly, “our smart technology advances so quickly, it outpaces our ability to civilize it.” Your personal information is at risk and you’ll likely need multiple passwords for your digital work.
You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin. It is a crypto-currency, a digital currency with no physical bank or government oversight. I know some people who are investing and trading with it daily. There is no physical cash. It’s the new money that some believe will eventually replace dollars and cents. But will it require more common sense? I think so. You can buy and sell Bitcoin on several websites. Transactions do not need to be linked to a particular person. Because of this, Bitcoin has been used for illegal drug sales and money laundering. Due to the fact that no one is overseeing or monitoring it for legal or ethical purposes, investors are at risk trading with it.
So, What Do We Do Now?
As you consider your work with students or young adults, may I encourage you to do something we didn’t have to do as much over a century ago? As new possibilities enter our lives, discuss them. Host a conversation I now call: “Celebrate, Evaluate and Initiate.”
1. Celebrate: Discuss the potential benefits of this new reality.
2. Evaluate: Discuss the potential pitfalls (consequences) of this new reality?
3. Initiate: Discuss the wisest way to approach life in light of the new reality.
You may just experience the most invigorating conversation with students ever.
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