I want to ask the seemingly simple question. Does technology improve our lives?

word technology is all-encompassing. The shaping of a rock to be used as a
crude tool to cut trees for shelter or shape branches for spears could be
classified as technology. In a broad sense, technology could easily include all
the tools; utensils; machines; etc. we use every day. In that sense, the answer
to my question is relatively simple. Given the choice of sleeping under a tree
and having just my bare hands to keep me alive – or living as we do today, I
will take the Sealy Posturepedic every single time. So instead of the broad
picture of technology, which I think we can safely say improves our lives, does
modern electronic technology improve our lives?

the time that WWII ended, a phenomenon call the ‘tyranny of numbers’ was noted
where some computational devices were so complex that the loss from failures
and downtime exceeded any benefits. Traditional electronics had reached a

first significant step forward occurred in 1948 when the first working
transistor was built but the more important invention was the operation of the
first working Integrated Circuit (IC) which occurred in 1960. As Jack Kilby,
winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his part in the invention of the
Integrated Circuit, said, “What we didn’t realise then was that the Integrated Circuit
would reduce the cost of electronic functions by a factor of a million to one.
Nothing had ever done that for anything before.”

1975 the Cray 1 Supercomputer was introduced. It weighed over 5t and sold for
US$8.86 M (AU$59M in current terms) and was capable of 80 Million Floating
Operations per Second (MFLOPS). A current Apple Watch weighs 125g, sells for
AU$529 and is capable of 6 GFLOPS. By comparison, that is a device on our wrist
that is eighty times faster than a seventies supercomputer but the Cray 1 was
150,000 times dearer and 40,000 times heavier.

does that improvement in electronic technology improve our lives?

often hear people bemoan the fact that technology is taking over the world or
has taken over our lives. I remember being in Sydney at a café and noticed four
Gen Z people sitting at a table. Not only were they not talking but all four
had their head in their phones. I pulled up a chair and sat down at the table
and pulled out my phone to do the same. They stopped and looked at me and each
other – obviously wondering why this old guy was sitting down at their table. I
asked if they knew each other. They said they did. I apologised and told them
that I thought this was the table for people that had no friends but wanted to
use their smartphones. I walked away chuckling to myself but when I looked back
they had missed my point and were all back on their smartphones – probably
tweeting about some weird old guy that just hassled them and what a great time
they were having with their friends.

are losing the ability to communicate (and communicate doesn’t mean send a
tweet to your followers). The average person uses their smartphone 221 times
per day. The group from 18-24 use their phones for 4.3 hours every day but even
the over-55 group are on their phones for over 2 hours each day. The average
person watches 4.9 hours of television every day and sits in front of a
computer for 3.6 hours. By the time you get through your screen time then
sleep, eat and shower, no wonder it feels like there is no time left to talk to
people. It sounds like I might be building an argument for technology being
detrimental to our lives but I am not quite there.

bottom line is that we have a choice. A phone has a button that you can use to
turn it off. We make active choices to spend time in front of our devices. Used
wisely, the choice and power that electronic technology gives us can absolutely
improve our lives. We just need to remember that we are the master and our
devices are the slaves. If those roles are reversed, that is when we have a

Mathew Dickerson


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