It is an undeniable fact that the world is getting smaller and faster. Technology is affecting the way we interact with others and how we tackle tasks and challenges. If we look back on some of the landmarks of human endeavour and travel we can see the pace of change. Consider the following examples.

Powered Flight. The Wright brothers made their first pioneering flight little more than a century ago (December 1901), and yet within 70 years it had circled the globe, entered space and put a man on the moon and now in the early 21st century taking a flight is almost as convenient as catching a bus.

Motorised Transport. Karl Benz invented the world’s first recognisable car in 1886. In the last 129 years they have also progressed in a similar fashion to flight in becoming faster, more comfortable and more affordable. From being a toy of the rich the car has become something that most households in the developed world own (and frequently more than one).

Information. William Caxton set up the first printing press in England in 1476 and it took about another 361 years to invent the basic (Morse) telegram machine (1837), a further 39 years for Alexander Bell to invent the telephone (1876) and another 40 years for John Logie Baird to transmit the first television pictures (c.1926). Computers were born out of the Second World War, initially as code-breakers and number crunchers and since the late 1970s / 1980s the home computer has gone from what was in effect a glorified gaming machine with a keyboard to a powerful device that brings the world into the home through the internet and seamlessly enables a user to do all kinds of tasks that were previously unfathomable or at the very least laborious for those who could do them.

These new technologies are now frequently integrated with the use of (often synchronised) devices such as a PC / laptop, tablet and smart phone and even more recently smart TVs that offer an increasingly high quality of picture definition and sound.

Almost all the above has become the normal in the last 150 years and indeed most of it has happened in the last 30 years with the technological boom. If a person had left this planet in the 1980s and returned in 2015 the technologies available in the home could be overwhelming. All this change has happened so fast, but at what price?

It is a well-documented fact that older people find adjustment to new technologies more difficult and frequently feel a sense of dislocation from modern reality. Those older people who are able to demonstrate technological savvy are labelled, rather patronisingly, as silver surfers as their generation are expected to have been left behind.

One side effect of technology is that it dumbs down the user in that the technology does the task so the user no longer needs to. This was drawn to the author’s attention as early as 1986 while at school. Each week a 35 minute class would be dedicated to mental arithmetic – mathematics that can be done in your head rather than on paper or with a device. The class was structured in such a way that each student worked at their own pace and had each test checked when finished. Each test comprised 30 questions and there were 50 per test book. The author finished the year at least a full text book (more than 50 tests) ahead of the next student with the highest degree of accuracy in the class. Why was this the case? Was the author a mathematical genius? If this had been the case he would have been best in regular mathematics classes too, but he wasn’t! He was probably in terms of test results fourth or fifth best even though his final exam result showed him to be joint second best with one other.

So what was the explanation? It turned out to be something really simple. At that point he had never used a calculator because his parents thought it would be better for him to use his head. Every other student in the class had been using a calculator for at least a year – even for simple calculations. The author also used to like keeping an exact account of how much he spent in the shop when buying something and how much change would be due. This would be another practice that could only have helped. The author never resented not having a calculator at such a stage and now retrospectively sees it as an asset.

Relationships are changing. A recent story about a group of eight year olds illustrates this perfectly. It was Hannah’s birthday and she was having a party with some friends and after the party food she wanted to play dolls with her friends who all preferred to ‘play Facebook’ instead. To the horror of Hannah’s mother, her daughter was sat on her own playing with a doll at her party while her friends were staring mesmerised at their smartphones – and worst of all they were messaging each other!

The controversial British TV presenter Jeremy Kyle (see right) frequently lambasts the role of social media in the lives of others. It has become a place for spreading hearsay, gossip and untruths that are in his view destroying the fabric of society as people stop communicating with each other. Ironically he has his own Facebook page and what is more a Twitter feed to go with it! This is the paradox of social media – even its strongest critics feel a sense of being left behind if they don’t utilise it.

Indeed some doomsayers will tell the public that this is the problem. An ability to use technology is such an essential part of 21st century living that those who cannot use it will be lost. On the reverse side of this is the loss that many people will feel if the technology fails – and not necessarily in a cataclysmic way. What if it simply stops working? Are people in the 21st century equipped, mentally and emotionally to be able to function in a society – which by definition means interdependently with defined roles and relationships with an effective communications toolkit or are they too dumbed down and technology dependent to be able to function properly in the event of such a failure?

© 2015 by Richard Horton (Omega Support Services)

Download Print Friendly Version of this Resource

Exercises

Pre-Reading Tasks

1. In what way(s) does technology impact your day to day life?

2. Which piece of technology couldn’t you live without? Why not?

3. What annoys you the most about modern technology? Why?

4. Do you believe that technology is developing too rapidly? What problems can the rapid progress of technology cause?

Comprehension

1. What is meant by ‘glorified gaming machine’ when describing computers of the 1970s and 1980s?

2. What does unfathomable and laborious mean?

3. What is meant by ‘technological boom’?

4. What does dislocation mean?

5. What is ‘technological savvy’ mean?

6. What is a ‘silver surfer’ and why does the author think the term is potentially offensive?

7. What is mental arithmetic and what two explanations does the author give to explain why he was significantly better than his classmates and what point is he trying to make?

8. What shocked Hannah’s mother?

9. What does mesmerised mean?

10. What does lambast mean?

11. What is Jeremy Kyle’s main complaint about social media?

12. What is a paradox and why does Jeremy Kyle find himself in one?

13. What is a doomsayer??

14. What two negative predictions does the author make concerning a technological failure?

Speaking

1. The author uses three examples of rapid technological advance. Can you think of any others?

2. Do you think that 21st century living is too dependent on technology? Explain your answer.

3. Do you think that technology has a ‘dumb down’ effect on people? In what ways? What could the consequences of this be?

4. How does social media impact relationships? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Explain your answer(s).

5. What event(s) could lead to a failure of technology? Would it be cataclysmic? Explain your answer.

6. Look at the meme that supposedly quotes Einstein (whether it is true or not it raises an interesting point for this discussion), that has been shared countless times on Facebook, and back at the story about Hannah’s party. Hannah was the only one who was behaving ‘normally’ by most people’s standards and yet she was the one who was left out. Children feel a great pressure to conform so how can we prevent our children from becoming so wrapped up in technology, especially if they are surrounded by other children who are?

7. Look at the title of the article; The World is Spinning Faster – Are We Heading for Disaster?. What do you think the author meant when choosing this title?Science Fiction is full of stories of being undone by technology – just think of The Matrix or Terminator films. Is technology likely to lead to mankind’s demise? Discuss.