The New Digital
The new digital reality
It is no secret that our world is now officially ruled by technology. The industrial revolution is behind us and we are now living in a high-tech era, whose end is nowhere in sight. How did it come to this and where do we go from here?
Humankind has long obsessed over improving the efficiency and effectiveness of anything from mundane, daily tasks to complex, scientific processes. Technology is a natural vehicle for realizing this goal – the tools, framework and execution methods it provides make it invaluable to us. Long before digitalization as we know it, primitive we developed technological tools in the pursuit of solutions that enhance our quality of life. For the fierce opponents of digitalization, this may come as difficult news, nevertheless, technology is here to stay, and it is only going to become more advanced and more pervasive.
Raising digital natives
Unlike their parents and grandparents, today’s youths are growing up with technology integrated into their lives from an early age. From baby monitors and baby diaper sensors to interactive learning toys, tablets, smartphones, headsets and voice assistants, the toddlers of today will never know a world without technology.
It’s no surprise then, that using technology is as natural to digital natives as reading printed books was for the generations before them. They don’t need to be taught how to use it; they intuitively know or can learn in a short amount of time. Their brains are wired for interacting with technology and using it to accomplish their goals. At the same time, youth’s intimacy with technology is either incomprehensible or a subject of envy to older generations – and rightfully so.
As we become more ‘techy,’ our desire to depend less on technology increases. A large part of society isn’t on board with the way technology is changing the fabric of our lives and redefining what we consider ‘normal.’ Privacy, security, mental health and personal well-being are usually on top of the list of ethical concerns perpetuated by the tech revolution. The mishandling of these aspects of the human plight has largely fueled the digital detox movement, which is also gaining in popularity.
Oxymoronically, there are now apps that help us spend less time online. Phone manufacturers are in turn trying to counteract this trend by curtailing the proliferation of these tools in their desire to sell more devices and apps. The battle between those who are pro-technology and those against it is also not bound to end any time soon, as we grapple with the side effects of digitalization and struggle to reconcile them with our dependence on it.
It’s a fundamental divide – ultimately, inviting more technology into our lives could restrict our freedom in different ways: fewer dependence on our own abilities, fewer privacy, fewer security, fewer choice. Humans have been trying to avoid these pitfalls since the dawn of time – alas, is a less free future more likely, thanks to digitalization?
Bridging the digital gap
The recent generations of digital natives are changing the world we live in, one app or gadget at a time – undeterred, unafraid, and unphased by technological advancements. Though, we still have ethical considerations to worry about – they must either be completely abandoned or reconciled with the new digital reality – one, in which freedom of choice, privacy, and personal connections are not what they used to be.
How do we make sure people still connect offline, build real social connections, and address the global loneliness trend? How do we plan for a digital world that delivers value not just economically but also environmentally? What safeguards are needed so that human values and existence are always placed above the goals inherent to tech tools?
One central principle that humanity mustn’t forget is that we built technology to serve us, not the other way around. The moment a certain technological tool or device stops transforming our lives and society for the better, it is time to revisit it as to avoid becoming subservient victims to our own success. Perhaps we wouldn’t need to digitally detox as often if we were more mindful of the role we allow technology to play in our lives.