In a recent article on Going Green, we talked about four industries that are going to be revolutionized as the world pushes towards a more technologically efficient and sustainable future. One of those four industries, Digital Technologies, is already making a major impact on our lives today. From the smartphone technology most of us have at our fingertips, social media channels connecting people around the world, and big businesses collecting data 24/7, there are many ways in which this technology can improve our lives. At the same time, without proper oversight this same information can have major negative effects on our lives. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the pros and cons of a digital future.
Human communication skills are what separates us from other living creatures and has allowed us to emerge as the dominant species on Earth. From grunts and hand signs, to cave paintings and smoke signals, humans have been communicating with each other to convey messages, express emotions, and ultimately survive. In a short amount of time after, we could write letters, read books, print newspapers, and watch television and movies.
Recently, through the inventions of smartphones and the internet, now every single person on the planet has the ability to record photos, videos, and share their ideas to the world. With that, media companies and influencers work tirelessly to write content and capture eyeballs to make money via advertising dollars.
This is obviously an extremely shortened version of the history of human communication, but you can see how it started – as a way to hunt, survive, and connect with other individuals, to a worldwide network of people sharing information 24/7.
Today, 3.5 billion people own smartphones, and 59% of the planet has internet access. While that isn’t everyone, that number will continue to increase as we become more and more connected.
Digital Technology effects everyone on the planet. We rely on banks to use digital technology to track our savings, we use email to communicate for work, and we use Google Maps to help us get from one location to the next.
As of 2020, People spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones. Americans spend around 5.4 hours a day using phones. Millennials are on their phones 5.7 hours per day, while baby boomers devote 5 hours to their smartphones.
As a general public there is no question we are getting more and more reliant on the our phones, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a digital future.
As we mentioned earlier, roughly half of the population owns a cell phone and has access to the internet. As manufacturing costs go down, the ability to buy a smartphone and access internet will continue to go down. This means more people around the world will have access to this technology. As phones have gotten smaller, they made their way into our pockets, and wearable technology is on the rise with smart watches and glasses. The technology will continue to become a part of our day to day lives.
With everyone using and wearing this technology, companies are collecting data 24/7. It is common knowledge today that companies, and even government agencies, use our phones to track what websites we visit, who we interact with, where we go, and what we buy. They use that information to track what products are best selling to stock their shelves, and try to sell us things we need before we even know we need them, while Edward Snowden made it known that the NSA collects data on every single person in the United States as a way to track potential terrorist attacks.
It would make sense that this will continue to happen in the future.
The Cons of a Digital Future
So now that we know what is currently happening, and what we can expect to see in the future, what are the pros and cons from all of this? Let’s start with the cons.
With everyone having access to the internet, and the ability to share information with each other, we have seen a rise in disinformation: People using false information to influence people. Since there is no oversight by social media platforms at the moment to track this, companies and individuals are creating sensationalized content to push an agenda. With the amount of information on the internet, and the ability to sway statistics (or not use it at all) it is possible to find two news articles stating completely opposite things.
This has been used as a tool to create divide, particularly on the political spectrum, to spread misinformation about opposing political parties and opponents.
With the massive amounts of data being collected, it is possible for these political parties to gather data about specific people, and then focus on spreading misinformation to this population, to push their agenda and create an even bigger divide.
The Pros of a Digital Future
While it seems like the cons are overwhelming, there are still a lot of pros that we can be optimistic about. First and foremost, we have the ability to connect, talk to, and even see a person anywhere in the world instantaneously. The very idea and ability to do that seems like it is straight out of a sci-fi film of the 1980s. We can chat with friends and family at anytime, no matter where they are on the planet.
With the use of social media and the internet, we have the ability to search and research any topic, for free. There is an unlimited amount of information via news articles, videos, and wikipedia pages to educate yourself on any topic. There are online universities where people can take classes on any subject, from anywhere in the world. With Google Earth, you can walk the streets of a tropical island, or the jungles of Africa, from the comfort of your home.
You can read blog articles about any hobby and topic, and connect with like-minded people of any age, race, religion.
With the data that is being collected, organizations can use that information to make systems more efficient. This means we can have healthier food which can get to people faster. We can track inefficiencies in processes that have been in use for hundreds of years, eliminating wasted time and resources. We can update technology to be more energy efficient and implement that into industries like transportation and infrastructure and connect objects through the Internet Of Things.
With the rate of technology advancing, there will always be nefarious people looking to use this to manipulate people and work the system. It is important for proper oversight as well as an understanding from the public about the pros and cons of a digital future, and what is happening with our data and our technology.
What We Can Do
There are a few things we can do as a general population to maximize the positive results from a more digital future. While we are becoming more reliant on technology and smartphones, it is important to take time away from them and stay grounded and connected with the earth and the actual people in your day to day lives. With the 24/7 news cycle, it is easy to get swept up into the content that is meant to scare us, but when we put down our phones you realize things aren’t as bad as the internet can make it seem.
Because of this, we need to be hyper aware of what we are sharing and posting. Before you share a news article, make sure you are doing your own research to find out the facts. Like we said earlier, there is an unlimited amount of information for you to find out the truth yourself.
There is a reason why there are multiple different news outlets that are fighting for your attention – negative stories and sensationalist news are what captures people’s attention. The more attention these media outlets have, the more money they make. You have the opportunity to use your network and your reach to share positive, helpful information to make the world a better place.
Make sure you are researching and spreading the information that deserves to be shared – information that can help shape a better future and bring people together.
Dylan Welch is the CEO and Host of Going Green, a podcast, website, and social media brand that highlights renewable energy, cleantech, and sustainable news.