Technology has dramatically touched our lives. Our forefathers lived life much like their ancestors. But now we see every generation is experiencing life, changed from what its predecessors experienced. Not only there are changes coming over the time but the rate of change has itself accelerated. In addition, we are coming across more and more novel experiences that are entirely new.
One most dramatically affected aspect of our lives is communication. In my life, I’ve seen communication advance at a dramatic pace. I remember, when a telephone connection was a not very common house hold feature. The cost of the telephone connection made its use less frequent. I remember the time when people used to wait for night time so that the applicable call rates drop to a quarter and they could make their important calls. If people were out on a trip, it was a nightmare if you lost sight of your companions. Frequently we hear announcements from local mosques that they had found a lost kid. My brother used to send letters from his hostel which was his primary source of contact with the family. Public Call Offices were adequate throughout the country.
It was big news when mobile phones were first introduced. They were bulky, crude in functionality and, costly. But the idea caught the attention of the masses. With technological breakthroughs and economies of scale, affordable mobile phones started to flood the markets. There were times when roaming charges were used to apply. However, rates kept on dropping. Packages of all sorts were there to fulfill the needs of all kinds of users. Eventually people felt that their once peaceful lives had been invaded by the disturbances of the ever present mobile phones. Some spent hours on their cell phones talking here and there. I think the usage of mobile phones has become a little mature now than it was in its initial days. Anyhow, the connectivity factor brought individuals in touch with each other more than ever before. Women are now sharing their recipes and gossips more than ever before. Children are calling their dad not to forget bringing candies from their trips to the markets. Today, mobile phones are a necessity. With the car stranded on the road, it’s easy to call help if you have a mobile. If you forget some important contact detail, you can always call back home and get the details again. If my brother is somewhere out and my mother finds she needs eggs for the breakfast, it’s quite sure the he will get the message and the eggs would be at home once he returns. If my brother has to keep in touch with a hundred people for his upcoming college event, he can move around and still stay in contact. If my transport van does not come, I give a call to my brother and he’s there to pick me up.
In parallel to the mobile phone phenomenon, there comes the Internet. A few decades back we came to know that we could link our computer to our telephone cable and have access to volumes of information. Emails were a buzzword. Hotmail and yahoo were my most visited sites. Getting to know every message would not be charged was a great incentive. Google is a fantastic way to find anything. It was orkut then and facebook now. My brother felt he could have better saved the money he spent on purchasing the hard copies of books he had piled up in shelves. Greetings Cards eventually met their death when they were replaced by text messages. Connectivity in parallel with accessible databases produced huge opportunities. Connectedness is no longer associated to the social interactions. Connectivity has got associated with the internet.
The social impacts of technological advances in communication have been enormous. Family life, friendships, security, economy, media, education and all other field I could think of have been affected by it. Older generations seem to have been outpaced by the technological leaps. I see many old people unable to use a mobile phone or computers. I also feel all this new connectedness and information availability has put a strain on the human mind and relationships. I see lots of people lose sense of proportion under the onslaught of digital information and connectivity. For me Facebook or Zynga is not life but a small part of it. I think of digital information and connectivity as an enabler but one to be handled with extreme care.
Technology is an enabler, neither good nor bad in itself. A lot of people see it as a curse. Some see it in connection with its prevalent misuse. It’s the underlying currents of a society that find its reflection in the use of technology. For instance, when landline telephones were the standard, there used to be a general complaint of missed calls: mischievous boys & girls disturbing people for fun. Unfortunately I was one of them. It was a part of my daily routine to dial random telephone numbers and hung up whenever somebody picked up the phone until one day a victim of my pranks called me back and warned me not to call again otherwise he will cut off my telephone connection. I spend my whole day sitting near telephone and picked it up after every two minutes to check whether it is working or not. I still remember that scary feeling and promised myself I would never ever do something foolish like this. That day I came to know that there is something we call “CLI: Caller Line Identification” which resolved the issue but with technology, the abusive tactics utilizing that technology also evolved. Mobile phones brought text messaging to the common folks. But to this date, I find people sending messages that they are in hospital in dire need of monetary assistance or I have won a Benazir Income Support Card and what not. Internet Cafes in their infancy were synonymous with pornography, midnight call packages were synonymous with couple friendships, mobile phones with cameras were often used for capturing girl’s photographs or videos ending up on uploading them on YouTube or twitter with blackmailing and exploitation all the way along. It’s a sad fact but I think it was never the curse of technology but the moral degradation that was waiting to be surfaced out. You can always use a knife to kill one but the tool itself cannot be blamed.
There have been instances in which the beneficial & crucial utilization of technology has been displayed. The earth quake of 8th October, 2005 was one such example. The communication cut-off at that time brought to light the integral role that communication networks take place in our lives.
The growth in communication technology may be considered the result of the complex social environmental needs that were prioritized by the key decision makers of the time as Raymond Williams has pointed out in his article ‘Technology and Society’. The advances in technology are driven by the complex inter-play of societal needs, capitalist interests and strategic objectives.
The shift of human societies from agricultural to industrial ones led to the breakup of family units and need for greater mobility. The combined family system was split into atomised family units. People needed to communicate with their relatives and had to operate from remote far-off work-places. The once permanence of settlement became a transient bondage dictated by the sources of livelihood. The value of mobility further intensified development efforts which pressurized the communication channels to improve further.
Human kind has the distinct advantage of being more knowledgeable and informed compared to other species on planet. And the medium of transfer, storage and dissipation of information has stayed at our specie’s highest priority list.War has also accelerated the development of some of the most crucial technologies inherent in communications. Increased scope of war theatres and requirement of real-time intelligence led to ever sophisticated means of communications. Satellites are launched and fibre-optics are laid in the oceans.
The medium of the message is used for different messages tailored by the interests of each group. The elite also seeks to control the masses. The traditional institutions of press and schools are good at indoctrination but real-time perception management is possible with modern communication technologies of television and internet. The state uses the means of communication as a means of propaganda, profit, mass control, foreign policy etc. These groups are at the control end of the medium. The mass population was at the receiving end mostly till the advent of internet when the population became the content producers as well. Earlier communication technologies are point-to-point or broadcast as in the case of telephones and television respectively. With internet a mesh network has evolved.
People relate technology to economic development in general. But they tend to ignore the fact that technology in itself remains a tool and not an end in itself. It’s different to buy a burger and a smartphone and consider oneself modern which is a state of accomplishment and not a visible appearance. The western societies are in a state of constant development for the last four centuries since Renaissance. While societies like ours are yet to shake off the shackles on our thoughts for innovation and construction.
Some people blame our culture and religion for the lack of technological development. They again fail to understand the complex history. The subjugated nations of ours were trained to become subjects. Our century’s old institutions of education were isolated from the mainstream to decay. The invention of steam engine took place that led the West in particular to rise way ahead of other subjugated societies. Since then the balance of power in military and economic spheres had been such that only the select few nations could develop. Exceptions to the rule have been tried to be marginalised such as China.
The current generation have seen so much technological break-through that they think everything might be possible. Their sense of self and world is many a time imbalanced due to the selective feedback that they select or they receive through their information channels. The digital worlds of young generations are starkly different to the reality based worlds of older generations. The psychological makeup of attention, memory, perception and knowledge are increasingly different. While the educational development due to technology is generally seen as positive, the social effects are viewed negatively in general by our older generations. It’s as if the time perspective of the generations mismatch. For the young, life is being affected in real-time and they need to stay in touch with their circles. The use of technology for them is less of a choice and more of a necessity to keep at pace with the rest of their peers.
In short, society has needs and individuals from the society at different tiers work towards meeting those needs. But with newer innovations in technology, the society is available with newer options which when exercised are linked to the introduction of the technologies. However, technology is a tool in its essence. The interplay of society with technology has brought about dramatic changes in its fabric. The changes in technology are ever accelerating creating a gap between the younger generations and their older peers.