Are technological advancements helping or hurting?

The future of our democracy depends on the answer.

Have you ever stopped to consider whether there is too much technology?

Ads are shown on TV advertising Alexa and Echo. These devices are asked questions or told to carry out tasks in smart homes. They can turn on lights, play music, tell the time, or whatever. Even old people who never had these conveniences in their lives are being encouraged to change their habits and buy one.

Do we really need all these new developments? Do they free up our time, or do they really enslave us, making us dependent on their services and causing us to spend a great deal of money on luxuries we don’t really need? At what point does a luxury become a necessity?

What is the motivation for constantly improving our technology? Is it capitalism’s greedy grip? Or is it a desire for novelty, spurred on by IT experts who work to make their phones as addictive as possible?

We’re researching the realm of artificial intelligence — self-driving cars and driverless trucks, robots that load and unload these trucks, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. Will technology cut our costs, or does it actually increase them? What will happen to all the soon-to-be unemployed workers who have lost their jobs to technology? Or will whole new categories of jobs be created as they were in the 18th and 19th centuries? We don’t know the answers to these questions.

Does technology increase our power, or does it put many of us in a self-imposed prison of isolation and loneliness where we are more tuned in to our technology than we are to our fellow human beings?

Each day as I walk into my class of high school students, I see them using their phones to text, check mail, or a hundred other uses. Their eyes are intently focused on their bright screens. I ask them how much their phones cost them. Costs range from $45-80 per month. That’s not counting the cost of the phone which can be $800 or more. The costs they are paying could be going to pay for their education instead.

I tell them I have a prepaid flip phone that costs me $100 a year. They laugh when I tell them that they must think I’m old. They’re right. I am. But I spent most of my life without computers or smart phones. I see phones as tools to call or text someone. I don’t see them as mini computers where one can use all kinds of apps. My life is too short to spend it on playing video games or watching many movies.

I’ve taught some adult continuing education classes on hacking and cyberwar because it’s important for me to understand the culture in which I live. The speed of technological change is mind-boggling. So are the dangers.

I just read about a National Security Agency worm called EternalBlue which was used effectively by the U.S. government to hack into and disable our enemies’ computer networks. Now that same program is being used to hack into “behind-the-times” municipal governments in our nation, costing the cities and the citizens millions of dollars to repair the damage.

I know some people who have been subject to a ransomware attack where they had to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to retrieve the information they stored on their computers. Countless companies and government agencies are being attacked on a daily basis.

Virtually every day I get robocalls warning me I am subject to an IRS audit, or someone has broken into my Microsoft program and I should call a phone number to protect myself. I find that to be ironic, since I use a Mac and not a Microsoft PC.

We learned from the Mueller Report that the Russians used IT to hijack social media, spreading lies and working to increase divisions in order to help one candidate win the presidency. In the process, they hacked into the Democratic website, stole countless emails, and then dumped them onto Wikileaks to embarrass Hilary Clinton and her campaign.

Is the future of our democratic system in danger from technology? Can anything be done about it?

The questions each of us need to ask ourselves is, “How much technology do I really need? Does this technology bring me happiness, or has it enslaved me? How much self-control do I have? Is technology a tool or has it become my master?” I can’t answer these questions for you, but you need to ask them and then set clear guidelines about your technology boundaries. All of us are faced with these choices. We set our priorities by how we spend our time. Is more really less?

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