’A poor worker blames their tools’: is it right to blame technology for our problems?

By Tom Addison, Business Development Executive

In an age when we’re always connected and find it almost impossible to go anywhere without having some kind of technology with us, are we right to blame the technology and not ourselves when there’s a problem?

Image credit: The New York Times

Since we’re surrounded by technology wherever we go, and its involvement in almost everything we do, it can become easy to blame all our problems on technology “Automation is destroying jobs” “Social media is addictive and damaging our social relationships”. We are quick to blame social media for our bad choices – being on your phone and crashing your car, and then blaming it on social media, well, it’s a bit like blaming the oven for burning your food.

And how does this track when most of us now look to technology to solve the world’s problems, for example, technological innovations are now seen as one of the main drivers to help tackle climate change. So, should we be blaming technology for our problems but then expect it to solve every challenge at the same time?

On a personal level, technology has helped me stay in touch with people that have moved further away, so if it wasn’t for technology I wouldn’t be in contact with them now. But that doesn’t mean using technology should completely fill my time. Taking a break from technology and trying new experiences outside of your normal routine can be a very beneficial thing to do. Yet, placing all the blame on technology doesn’t seem right when we’re the creators and controllers of technology.

Belinda Parmar, CEO of The Empathy Business, recognises technology has many positives but points out that “tech also has a dark side”. There is an argument that some tech companies have abused their power and influence to create a society that is completely reliant on technology – such as social media companies. At SXSW 2019, Aza Raskin, co-founder of the Center for Human Technology, spoke on a panel about the “digital loneliness epidemic” and the “infinite scroll”, the design principle that enables users to continuously scroll through their feeds, without ever having to decide whether to keep going or stop.

On a surface level, it’s a great design feature but it contributes towards us being unable to put our phone down and potentially causing addictive behaviour. It’s true that Big Tech has figured out a way to steal and keep our attention, but we’re not powerless to resist. We are now inundated with notifications, whether it’s a reminder of a distant friend’s birthday or a suggestion of a photo we might like, we seem to struggle to ignore notifications (no-one wants to experience FOMO) leading to the feeling that you can never be without your phone. In fact, some of Silicon Valley’s tech pioneers keep their phones on black and white mode, because they themselves know how the bright colours and those little red iPhone notifications were chosen to create addictive behaviours in us all.

While some of us may feel like we’re in an epidemic over the misuse of technology – new technology always comes with a stage of adoption, during which time we figure out the best ways to use it and break every rule, until we find a better way, or at least a way that works for us.

There could be more education about the risks as well as the benefits of technology and having an informed society will benefit us in the long term. New innovations are developed faster than we can master them, and while Big Tech has an enormous amount of responsibility, I don’t think we should be blaming them for every problem that we have.