We need to consider the possible consequences of our 24-7 reliance on digital technology, warns a new book.
Our dependence on our phones, tablets, and laptops has dramatically changed how we communicate and interact, and is slowly eroding some of our core principles, says Michael Bugeja, professor and director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Bugeja is not advocating against technology—in fact, he relies on it for his work and personal life.
But in his forthcoming book, Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine (Oxford University Press, 2017), Bugeja explores what might happen if we allow machines to dictate our life. Those machines range from smartphones to robotics to virtual reality. Bugeja theorizes that because of our reliance on machines, we will start to develop the universal principles of technology, such as urgency, a need for constant updates, and a loss of privacy.
“We are losing empathy, compassion, truth-telling, fairness, and responsibility and replacing them with all these machine values,” Bugeja says. “If we embed ourselves in technology, what happens to those universal principles that have stopped wars and elevated human consciousness and conscience above more primitive times in history?”
Bugeja warns of the dangers associated with adopting these values. The proliferation of fake news is just one example of how this shift is already influencing our culture. Technology provides a continuous connection to our social media feeds, which has become a popular source for news for many Americans. However, social media tends to cultivate news stories that reflect our individual beliefs and values—not a broad spectrum of viewpoints—and is an easy way for fake news stories to spread, Bugeja says.
“The business of journalism is already feeling the effect of living in a world of correlation without causation,” he says. “We understand what happened and how it happened, but we don’t understand why it happened.”
That’s why Bugeja wants colleges and universities to require students to take media and technology literacy courses. He says it is important that students know where to go to find credible news stories, and open their minds to information from a variety of sources, not just those that confirm what they already think or believe.
“We need these courses so that people know where to go for facts and how to deal with technology. If you do not assert yourself over technology, it will assert itself over you and you will be doing what the machine asks you, rather than you telling the machine what to do,” Bugeja says.
There is no easy short-term fix for the future, Bugeja says, which is why we need to temper our use. He says the long-term solution is through education.
It is not just the philosophical and intellectual consequences that have Bugeja concerned, but also the impact of technology on business, behavior, and everyday activities. Business and industry increasingly rely on machines or robots to do the jobs of humans. Bugeja says this shift can improve efficiency, safety, and the company’s bottom line, but he questions what will happen to those individuals who lose their jobs to machines.
“We introduce new gadgets by saying they will make our lives better, which is true, but there are also dangers,” Bugeja says.