Is new technology still improving our lives?

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. At its most basic level, it’s a labor saving device. The wheel, irrigation, plumbing, surgery. All of these things have saved us time and improved our lives.

But lately, I’m not really seeing recent technological improvements making things better.

Let’s look at smartphones, one of the newest innovations for the human species. It started off with cell phones, which allowed people to communicate with anybody, wherever they were. That was extremely useful, no doubt. The cost? A subscription fee, a moderately expensive phone, and a side of cancer. There’s studies that show you’re more likely to get brain cancer on the side of the head you hold the phone when talking, and heavier phone users have higher rates of cancer.

Okay, the double edged sword is starting to be seen, but still, the convenience of mobile phones was just too great, and like smoking, most people had no idea of the side effects at first, and once the data came rolling out, just like tobacco companies a few decades ago, the mobile phone companies were happy to tell everyone that there’s no danger at all.

Then came the smartphone. Smartphones have allowed people to know exactly where they are, at all times. To navigate efficiently without asking for directions, to check and respond to emails while on the go. Again, very useful! The cost, this time? With 3G, 4G, and now 5G being rolled out, there’s more radiation bouncing around than ever before. But you also have to sacrifice your privacy. It’s nigh impossible to make your phone not be a big fat NSA tracker that you carry around in your pocket.

And then there’s time.

If technology is supposed to be a labor saving device, something that makes us more efficient, then smartphones have failed miserably. Unlike plumbing, which saved people a daily trip to the local well and freed up their time for other pursuits, smartphones take far more time than they liberate. Whatever few minutes smartphones save you every day are far outweighed by the time-sucking and addictive nature of social networks and mobile games. People stare at screens all day long now, myself included.

At some point you have to ask if these devices are making our lives simpler, or more complicated?

Technology making life more complicated

My wife’s car has a push to start button. Mine has an ignition key. The push to start button is supposed to be convenient. By having a smart key in your pocket, you can approach the car and not have to unlock it to open it. You just hover your finger over the right spot on the door handle and by sensing the presence of the key, it unlocks the door. When you get in, you push a button and your car starts. Sounds great, right?

Well, let’s think about it. Does it save time? Not really. When I approach my car I take my key out in preparation, so it doesn’t save time there. And it takes me no longer to insert a key already in my hand than it does for my wife to push a button.

Because the smart key is so much more complicated, it malfunctions more often. At times, the car tries to be “smart” by sensing whether you’ve left the key in the car, and won’t lock the door when you walk away, but it often gets it wrong and annoyingly beeps for no reason.

And the costs? Push to start ignition systems are much more expensive, increasing the cost of your car for no good reason. It’ll cost roughly $500 to repair such a system, versus about $50 for a key ignition system.

To make matters worse, the car is constantly emitting electro-magnetic radiation to sense the nearby key. Is that radiation safe? Who knows, nobody’s done long-term studies on it. We know that non-ionizing radiation is still dangerous. There are studies that show WiFi causes permanent infertility in mice. Here’s another one that tests sperm counts in rats.

Should we be blindly subjecting ourselves to increased amounts of electro-magnetic radiation for minor conveniences? These new technologies have become an expensive, dangerous novelty, that could literally cause the extinction of the human species. But let’s ignore all that and sacrifice common sense and caution on the altar of novelty buttons and shiny things.

Innovation for the sake of innovation

We’ve gotten to the point where a lot of new technology is being invented and adopted just for the sake of it. It’s not really solving any actual problems people have. Is an invention really useful if it solves a problem you didn’t even know you had? We’re living in a world that is increasingly unfit for human beings. The food we’re eating is so toxic and poisonous to us that record numbers of people are becoming obese. At this point, running into a regular, healthy human being on the street is actually becoming a rarity.

Food technology has clearly not been going in the right direction in half a century, if not more.

I think we need to take a big step back and re-evaluate what it is that we actually need in our lives, and whether the smart homes and baby cameras and portable tracking devices we call smartphones are really making us better humans, or if it’s time to disconnect and live our lives more intentionally.

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