Technology is changing the way we live and work. And despite its breakneck speed, the incremental nature of change has made it nearly impossible to notice. Perhaps the human sense of entitlement has something to do with it. Your computer is slow? You deserve to have a faster machine. The battery of your smartphone doesn’t last long enough? You deserve to have a phone with a larger battery. This is, more or less, your response to the cars you drive, the clothes you wear, the screens you are addicted to, music, food, appliances, utensils, entertainment, education, news and sports. And why, you deserve it all. And when you have an opportunity and/or the resources needed you upgrade in a heartbeat. Consumerism 101, right? Perhaps. But the strong undercurrent of technological advancement remains untraceable to your cognitive powers.
When we were kids, we used to gather around our television set to watch Knight Rider, the story of a man with a smart talking Pontiac. That to us was imagination stretched to its breaking point. Such a car could never capture your imagination today. Technology has come far. Unlike Back to the Future II, we still do not have flying cars (and for a good reason too or just like road crashes, poor traffic management would mean cars falling from the sky every other day). But smart cars are no more a farfetched thought.
Similarly, when the first computer came to our home, it did not have any substantial data storage system and data had to be stored on cassette recorders. Backing up of a few kilobytes meant that a long time would be spent listening to computer-generated noises. Then came floppy disks, CDs, DVDs and so on. Now you have seamless cloud storage facility along with big storage thumb drives and SD cards. Compare also the dial-up internet with the 4G connections. These seem small changes. Absolute baby steps to a layman’s eyes. But take a look at their true scope. Enhanced storage and matching processing power have made smart handheld or other machines possible. Better and 24 hours connectivity has brought to you the apps like Netflix, Spotify, Audible and helped sites/apps like YouTube to pack more punch.
Of course, this is transforming the way we work too and we are going to look at that in a bit. But first, what has actually caused this silent revolution? In Thank You for Being Late Thomas L Friendman, attributes this drastic change to the year 2007, when the first iPhone came out. Others would either give credit to the invention of iPods or Blackberrys. I look at it as a combined function of the internet, portable (if smaller) screens and snowballing processing power courtesy what is known as the Moore’s law. Before you confuse it with an actual law of physics, let me hasten up to say that the Moore’s Law is just an observation. It states that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles every two years. Meaning? That the processing power of machines will continue to double steadily if periodically. Of course, there is a limit to it. Once the size of transistors shrinks to molecular level, there may not be more space to grow. But where hardware fails, better connectivity and cloud storage/processing come to the rescue. So, the processing power will continue to grow no matter what.
Now look at how this technological revolution has changed our lives already. Remember that photoshop where you went to get your photographs developed? Gone. The video store you went to rent or buy your movies from? Or the music store that supplied your favorite albums? The Walkman you had to keep you on your feet with a one-hour audiotape? All gone. Their place taken by your smartphone, with a little help of other accessories like printers, smart television screens and never ending supply of apps now available. Want to thank people? Thank people in the Silicon Valley. And China. Other countries like Japan have also contributed but had it not been for initial copycat business model and later competitiveness of the Chinese companies, you would have been paying far bigger sums for the technology that you hold in your hand. In case you have not noticed, since China has seriously tried to enforce the intellectual property laws, tech companies have already pushed the prices of their flagship smartphones beyond the once dreaded USD 1000 price per unit. Good for inventors, innovators and general R&D but bad for consumers.
And these technologies are changing you as a person. The habit of stealing a glance to look at your handheld screen while you are in company, the way you walk, the way you communicate and your desire to take selfies every five minutes, all are changing you. I know many people object angrily to overdependence on this technology. Many pejoratively call it smartphone addiction. But that is akin to missing the point entirely. Millennials and the generations that come after that have been and are being raised by this technology. I have told you the kind of technological primitiveness our generation had to endure. The teenagers today have been brought up by this technology. They have a different level of connection with it and it is not all that bad either.
I know you are thinking of young people walking on the crosswalk looking at their smartphones, paying little attention to anything else including traffic. That, of course, is a safety issue and that is where our role comes in. Instead of forcing them to stop using something this essential, we have to help them stay protected. Ask yourself, what have we done other than to make them feel guilty? Any courses taught at school on smartphones and safety? Or on ability to multitask?
One thing that I have learnt about technology is that its physical manifestations are transitory. They say when television was invented and first introduced to focus groups and experts, it was summarily rejected. They couldn’t believe anybody would sit in a room staring at a small screen for long. But boy, were they wrong? And nobody told them that screens would shrink to the palms of your hands. Sooner or later the technology will acquire a shape where you don’t need to look down every five seconds.
From smartphones, laptops, tablets, apps, fast food and durable clothes everything seems to be geared at keeping you mobile. So there is a good chance either you will adapt to the technology in a safe manner (hint: it is called evolution) or technology will adapt to your needs. All you need to do is stop being offended by it.
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi