Monday, 28 January 2019

Our Relationship with Technology

Some time ago, I attended an event where the topic was the rapid development of technology. The argument was presented that as technology begins to replace so many routine tasks it is actually becoming more human. There was considerable debate around this and I was shocked by the people who feel that the interactions they have with apps and websites, replicate human interaction. The overwhelming sense I left with was not that technology is becoming more human, but rather that we are becoming less-so.

Since this event I have been considering my own interactions with technology and people around me. There are certainly times when I actually prefer dealing with tech; at the supermarket checkout for example, when I find the rushed interaction with a human operative far more difficult than the more functional, but patient, self-service alternative. However, there are times when the rather binary functionality of a machine cannot provide the understanding of my problem and something that could have been solved quickly with a short conversation becomes a seemingly never-ending stream of emails, text messages, automated option choices, or chat-bot conversations. I wonder if it is not the nature of the technology that is the problem, but our over dependency upon it.

In recent times we have certainly seen significant cultural change in the insistence upon email, usually to preserve an “audit trail”, rather than a short phone call or brief meeting, which wastes time, our most precious human resource, and subsequently increases stress and reduces our productivity.

However, the affects are so much wider and I realise that over the past couple of years I have used social media, in particular Facebook, to stay in touch with friends or colleagues I would otherwise have lost touch with. I’ve always thought this to be a very good thing, however, on meeting a group of friends recently, I realised how much we hadn’t shared. A couple of these friends didn’t really feel like friends at all because, in truth, we had shared very little with one another and that which we had shared lacked emotion and valuable human elements. This raised questions for me about the impact technology has on those things which are most valuable, ie relationships, and the missing human interactions such as body language, which allow us to truly relate to a friend on a deeper level.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we have all abandoned our friends and now only communicate through social media, but I feel it is important that we stop and ask ourselves what it is to be human and could we actually be more connected by considering the added value of off-line connections. I can’t remember the last card I sent anyone, I simply send wishes on Facebook. It is true that I am staying in touch but I’m not truly connecting and these sense of belonging is missing. I need to make more effort to maintain those elements of relationship which bring me joy: to write, to call and to visit, while still availing myself of the wonderful opportunities which social media presents us with in continuing those relationships online. In short, I’m going to make greater effort to show friends the real value of our friendship and not simply be distracted by technology.