And Why We Should Care
Few things in life that benefit each other while causing harm at the same time.
Enter the technology and culture love-hate relationship.
In this modern era, tech and culture are inseparable. Technology is as vital to our society as blood is to our bodies. Don't believe me? Ask the nearest teenager to give up their smartphone for a week and and gauge their reaction.
And yet, tech also has a history of being harmful to culture. For example, take nuclear weapons and the military concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD). This idea suggests that enemies wouldn’t use these weapons because of the shared destruction. While some recognize MAD as the perfect deterrent, others argue against having nukes at all.
It's no secret that certain technologies are wildly beneficial to society, but sometimes, there's also a dark side.
This fact was even more apparent when my daughter asked why I insisted on limiting her screen time. Because of my experience and education, I have grown used to appreciating various technologies while being wary. It was challenging relating this info to a twelve-year-old who only wants to play Minecraft for ten hours straight. But the conversation also laid down a foundation for this article I'm sharing.
This list is hardly exhaustive, but it does have interesting items while offering impactful insights on both sides of the coin.
So, without further ado, let's start the countdown.
3 - The Television (TV)/Streaming Services
Saturday morning cartoons, Disney movies, and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
Some of you know what these titles are. But for those who don't, just know that these TV shows, and many more, played a major part in my childhood.
Since television has transformed many times over the years, I included streaming services for this article.
Before TV, radio ruled the media landscape. And while radio was a novel and exciting tool, compared to TV, it was like being blind all your life then suddenly able to see.
TV's positive impact on society is easily seen today. As a device for rapid mass communications, people can get information on just about anything from everywhere. This last point is crucial since living in a bubble is easy, unaware of what's going on globally. There are many more benefits, but most would agree that entertainment tops the list. Whether you're looking for drama or true crime, reality shows, or documentaries, it can all be easily found.
How does this tech clash with culture?
Let’s run down a quick list:
- Watching TV can be addictive
- There’s less time socializing
- Excessive advertisements
- Stunts critical thinking skills
- Enormous time waster
That last bullet hits home personally. There was a time my TV was on nearly 24 hours a day with mindless noise and images.
But I feel the biggest issue is the adverse impact on health.
According to The Harvard Gazette, we should be cautious of idle behaviors like watching too much television, which reduces physical activity. Also, studies from 1970 to 2011 "linked TV viewing with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death."
That's a bleak report.
2 - Automobiles
I got my first car before I even knew how to drive, and it was the highlight of my teen years; few kids had the privilege to roll up in their own wheels at sixteen!
It's hard to compile all the benefits the automobile has had on humanity. How do you put into simple words the time savings alone? This grand piece of tech boosted the economy while generating many jobs. And no one can argue that once vehicles became popular, they provided a novel comfort level; try and beat that horse and buggy!
Yes, cars are awesome, but as this post suggests, certain cultural issues arose and still plague us today. Some of these concerns we're aware of, but others are vague.
Take my teenage milestone mentioned above. Getting my driver's license wasn't just a personal triumph. In many ways, it was an example of societal growth—primed to a certain level in our culture. But is that a fair judgment?
I can honestly say people's impression of me just because I drove to school was hardly true. Having a car is so normal that stereotyping doesn't cross most people's minds, but it happens. This idea segues into a related area as well—social classes.
Inwardly, people are often fitted into a class based on the type of car they drive. A person driving a BMW is viewed (and, dare I say, judged) quite differently from someone driving KIA. While some of these viewpoints are true, blanket judgments are harmful to our culture.
While in the Air Force, I worked for a colonel (high ranking officer for those who aren't aware) who drove a beat-up old Nissan. But other people of similar rank sported everything from Mercedes to Maseratis. The officer I worked for wasn't financially strained, destitute, or "low class." He simply valued cars for their function. "Point A, to point B," he'd say. That's the only thing that mattered. Why spend money on something you value so little?
There's also the hugely damaging environmental impact cars have had on society—air quality, production and disposal, fuel…
The list is long and beyond the scope of this article. Besides, I’d rather focus on an alternative that was trampled by the automobile—public transportation.
It's no surprise that the novelty of owning a private vehicle is more charming than boarding a bus. I get it. But that doesn't mean we aren't better off relying on public transportation.
I had the pleasure of only using public transportation during a lengthy period in Canada. I love having my own car, but I have to admit, it was amazing to let someone else take responsibility while I read my book. During that time, it was easy to foresee never driving again.
The American Public Transportation Association makes an excellent case for mass transit, citing benefits such as:
- Economic prosperity
- Safety (did you know using public transit reduces your chance of being in an accident by 90%?)
- Monetary savings
- Reduced gasoline consumption
- Lower carbon footprint
- No road rage (this is a significant one)
We all love having a car, but I have to wonder what our world would look like using public transportation instead.
1 - The Internet
You may be wondering why I included the internet in this list of older tech, but believe it or not, the internet has been around since the '60s.
I grew up without the internet, and yet, life without it is unthinkable. As a writer, and I'm sure teachers and learners will agree, the internet has been a game-changer for research.
I remember visiting the library many times, talking to neighbors, and combing through mountains of literature like encyclopedias to complete a book report.
Now, when my twelve-year-old needs an answer, she reaches for her iPad, enters a term in her favorite search engine, and wham, hundreds of answers.
And let’s talk communications. Most people think of cell phones when it comes to connecting with others. But if cell service died today, the internet still provides a fantastic capacity to reach each other globally. A few examples include:
- Social Media
- Video calls
- Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
- Various chat mediums
- Instant messaging
Other benefits include entertainment, GPS mapping, banking, collaborating, shopping, and making money.
But there's a reason I listed the internet as the number one tech that nurtures a love-hate relationship with culture—it has a dark side.
No, really, a dark side. Or should I say dark web?
The dark web is a part of the internet (technically the deep web, but that’ll have to be a different article) that isn’t indexed by search engines. You need a unique browser to access the dark web because of special registry operators regular browsers like Google and Firefox can’t access.
But that's getting too technical (and apparently, I need to write about the deep and dark web).
What's important are the many nefarious activities occurring within the dark web. To be fair, not all ventures are shady, but we're concerned with the ones that are.
Since there is other culture killing aspects of the internet to review, I’ll only provide this small list specific to the dark web (although there is some overlap):
- Malware (in particular ransomware)
- Drug sales
- Weapons sales
- Human trafficking
- Hiring contract killers
And so much more.
Dark web aside, there are notable hazards to be wary of within the regular internet (again, with some overlap).
Computer Hope wrote an excellent blog post on internet flaws which you can read here, but some highlights include:
- Fake news
- Various social crimes (stalking, bullying, trolls, etc.)
- Identity theft
- Excessive advertising
- Focus and patience killer
It’s not easy to balance the benefits of a given technology with its adverse impact on society. After all, how can something so good be so bad?
But the television, automobile, and internet prove precisely that. So what can society do to ease the adverse impacts of helpful technologies?
Ideally, a plan that entails an in-depth study of effects for any looming tech.
I expect this is the case for life-changing technology such as flying cars. There’s air traffic, parking, safety, and many other issues to examine.
However, can we say with confidence that such a study occurred with other major technologies? Think of the impact devices such as smartphones have had? But honestly, many of the drawbacks we observe likely couldn't have been foreseen.
Ultimately, as technology propels humanity forward, there will always be downsides. I feel our best option for managing this is expressed by this quote:
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
What other technologies nurture a love-hate relationship with culture? What are some ways we can handle harmful impacts? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading.
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