Social Impacts of Exponential Technological Growth

I was ordering dinner tonight. The restaurant was offering a discount and had sent a numeric code to my phone to validate the offer. It struck me how dependent we have become on our smart phones. I use mine for everything from controlling various devices via Bluetooth to looking up facts on the internet. It has become our version of the Star Trek Tricorder, Communicator, and the PADD all rolled into one.

We are still inventing sensors and add ons for the phone but it truly is the universal tool. I have a Bluetooth blood pressure cuff that provides data to a health app. There are pedometer apps that take advantage of the motion sensors built into the phone. The sensor suite on my wrist, otherwise known as my Fitbit, reports detailed information on my steps, my exercising, my heart rate, and my sleep patterns to an app on my phone.

There are countless apps for other purposes. I have one that draws a waterfall display of the audio spectrum. I have another app that mimics a spirit level. There are map apps that tell me where I am at all times or let me explore the geography of a town on the other side of the world with photographic resolution.

I’m not really expecting that you aren’t aware of most of these features. Instead, I am trying to point out how diverse the tasks are that these devises perform and how totally alien they would have been to most of us twenty years ago. Even ten years ago we would have marveled at most of them.

These devices are changing our everyday lives. They are changing how we think about the world and our relationship with it. They are changing the way we relate to other people. They are changing the way we develop our self image.

Recent studies suggest that we perform better on cognitive tasks when our phones are turned off and in another room. It is no secret how devastating becoming distracted by them can be. Texting while driving or even walking is now considered criminally negligent. Some studies indicate that even talking on the phone hands free can be dangerously distracting. And yet we are clearly addicted to these devices.

On the horizon is the driverless car. In many ways, it will be so much safer than the manually driven cars we now depend on for transportation. But what about when things go wrong. There have already been discussions of having autonomous cars programmed such that they save the most lives possible in an accident rather than giving precedence to saving the passengers in the vehicle that the autonomous driver is controlling.

Whatever develops it is certain that the future will continue to change at an ever accelerating pace. And we will continue to be challenged to adapt our social interactions to these technological changes. The important thing to remember is to preserve our humanity and respect each other. Technology often glosses over the importance of being considerate of each other.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.