Technology has advanced – how are we keeping up?

| 29 April 2015

By Timothy Maurice Webster

Advances in technology offer humans unprecedented access to opportunity. Imagine growing your career as a 25-year old in 1815, as opposed to 2015. Today, a quick download of an app, a few swipes on a device and boom – a laundry list of opportunities stare you in the face.

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Applying for a job in the 19th century was a very different picture. If you were fortunate to have a horse – or know someone who could lend you one – you may have had a single opportunity to gallop off and post an application – which would take months to return. The alternative was simply to settle for the opportunities that existed in your immediate surroundings.

The force of family
Perhaps the slow pace of yesteryear’s society is why family members played such a crucial role in decision-making – from choosing a partner to career pursuits. By contrast, the technological revolution has promoted the power of the individual and exposed us to infinite opportunities.

Historically, society’s collective structure and combined social force of the community dictated the trajectory of an individual’s life in almost every aspect. Personal responsibility was regulated and largely controlled one’s environment because of limited options and pressures to conform to a small, insular community’s expectations.

Technology has not only changed how we engage in society and measure our moral compass, it has also physically altered the structure of the brain – particularly the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for future planning, decision-making and problem solving.

We’re still evolving
Many argue the prefrontal cortex is what makes us distinctly human. Our ability to think quickly, imagine scenarios and behave in a responsible and efficient way is a fundamental evolutionary advantage.

Now, as the technology we use on a daily basis speeds up and changes, it puts pressure on the brain to adapt. This adaptation may be slow from a biological perspective, but any parent will tell you their ten-year-old child is far more advanced than they had been at that stage in their own childhood.

Research has shown that the increasing use of search engines, for example, makes children more adept at remembering where to find information as opposed to remembering the information itself. It has also been argued that not having to retain information in our brains allows for more capacity for deeper contemplation, critical thinking and problem solving.

Where to from here?
Ultimately, society will continue to evolve against the backdrop of technological advancements. Like all growth, some progress leads us astray. But the new, overwhelming possibilities technology presents will equip us to live ever more efficient lives.

The conundrum we face is simple – how can we reorganise social expectations and standards to align with the capacity that technology offers? When the social contract under which we operate has become obsolete in light of technology, life presents a far more complicated problem than any app can solve.

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