Does tech make life better but society worse?

For argument's sake, would the world be a better place if we didn't have all the technology we have today?
4 June 2018

New and exciting technology makes life convenient but there are still some challenges. Source: Shutterstock

Today, technology is part of the fabric of our lives. We live and breathe in a world that would struggle to get by without email, social media, smartphones, and the various tech-powered solutions we’ve grown accustomed to.

Whether it’s getting an Uber to get to work or using an AI-powered chatbot to discuss our savings and investment options, we’re incredibly dependent on technology today.

And the fact is, we don’t intend to stop. Consumers and businesses both want more technology to make their lives easier, better, and more comfortable – and feel that the digitization of the world is inevitable.

However, there’s a growing voice among citizens, here in America and the rest of the world, that’s cautioning against the excessive use of (and reliance on) technology.

According to a recent survey by Vrge, the vast majority of Americans said that they believe that smartphones and internet technology has improved their lives.

However, they were also quick to voice their concerns about tech’s impact on society as a whole – especially in relation to data security, the growing gap between rich and poor, and job opportunities.

The survey’s findings revealed that Americans do not believe that policymakers are keeping up with the pace of technological change and, by wide majorities, believe that the government should do more to regulate the internet and other advanced technologies.

Josh Zecher, Partner and Co-founder of Vrge Strategies, said:

“Americans have a deeply divided view about technology. We remain in love with the internet, smartphones, and other advanced technologies for our own use, but we’ve got serious concerns about its widescale impact.

“This should raise red flags for the technology industry. If companies don’t take steps to rebuild trust with consumers today, regulators will step in tomorrow with solutions that could very well put entire business models at risk.”

Vrge found that while Americans are very positive about the impact modern technology is having on their daily lives, we’re increasingly pessimistic about the effect of new technology on society.

Forty-six percent believe that the internet and social media have had a negative impact on society, 38 percent believe technology is making the gap between rich and poor wider, and 60 percent believe artificial intelligence developments will reduce job opportunities.

The growth of digitization is also bringing on increased privacy concerns.

More than 65 percent of people said they wouldn’t give personal information to technology companies even if it made their daily commutes shorter or improved their health.

In fact, while different states in the US compete to become the smartest city in the country (and the world), 66 percent of respondents said they would not want to live in a smart city.

The most concerning data point revealed by the survey was that 55 percent of Americans believe that technology companies don’t care about how their products impact society.

“This has been a rough year for internet utopians. The technology that was supposed to break down divisions has heightened them, and we’ve seen everything from election tampering to the demise of Net neutrality. And the practice of using technology for citizen surveillance has not been limited to repressive governments but has become part of the tradeoff of engaging with popular platforms,” Perry Hewitt, vice president of marketing and digital strategy at ITHAKA told Pew Research.

Recent breaches and data leaks have caused the public to ask more questions about policies and regulations that keep tech companies in check.

In the past, Americans largely supported a hands-off policy approach to internet and technology companies that would allow them to innovate, flourish, and grow.

Now, in the age where five of the top ten most valuable companies in the world are tech firms, citizens believe that policymakers need to take more actions to prevent these giants from over-reaching.

“Eventually the need for fair and intelligent propagation of rule sets will take over – slowly and not in an organized fashion. But eventually,” Joe Raimondo, digital CRM leader at Comcast and former CEO told Pew Research.

The bottom line is that the jury is still out on whether technology is harming society. There’s no unanimous decision as yet. However, when it comes to whether or not technology is helping society, there’s a lot more people nodding their heads in agreement.

As David Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College, told Pew Research:

“Much as humans flourish when living with an optimal work-life balance, so we will flourish when technology serves us without making us its slave. Thus we need creative minds that can help us intentionally manage our time and priorities accordingly.”