Does Technology Make Our World Too Convenient? (Opinion)

Analytics helps predict crime, traffic needs, but are we losing the human connection?

by / June 1, 2010

Children born this year will grow up in a much different America than the one you or I knew in our youth. I believe people born in the 1800s bore witness to more social and technological change than any generation in history. Imagine coming into an America where phones, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, TV, oil, suffrage, civil rights and social security were largely nonexistent, and leaving it with these things becoming commonplace.

But the next generation of Americans may experience even greater upheaval. As my 2-year-old son grows, it's likely he won't be educated the way children have been taught for centuries. There really is no longer a need to memorize facts and dates. These, of course, can all be Googled. He may never have to lug a heavy backpack around school because electronic readers may soon replace textbooks. There's also a good chance he will never know a dependence on oil as renewable energy technology flourishes.

Much of the emerging technology that will change our world is created with the idea of offering greater convenience. Search engines, smart phones, Netflix, social media - these are just a few relatively new developments that have made modern American life easier than it has ever been. But can too much convenience become a bad thing?

In this issue, we feature several stories that tell the tale of still more technologies designed to make policy, governance and even punishment more convenient. Across the nation, analytics technology is being deployed that will alert us to traffic buildups, energy demands and to infrastructure that's on the verge of failure, all before anything actually happens. Even policing the streets is becoming more a matter of ones and zeroes because of maps and software that predict where crime will occur.

All of it is enough to make one wonder if face-to-face communication and other human interactions will soon slip suddenly into relic, having yielded to the onslaught of technological convenience.

In the Disney-Pixar movie Wall-E, a vision of the future is depicted in which humans exist only to fill hovering chairs that glide their obese bodies between the mall and the pool, all while being served by robots delivering lunch in a cup. Characters communicate with each other via video screens, oblivious to others and their environment.

Wall-E, of course, is science fiction. But as so many headlines have read, science fiction often becomes science fact.


Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.

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