Balancing act: dancing on a tightrope called technology
It’s all about time: on this planet, it has its limits
64 days per year – that’s a full 24h days – we sit in front of the TV. 59 days per year we stare at our smartphone screens; the figure doubles for young people. 35 days a year, we are on social media. 30 days a year, we sit in front of the PC. We spend 14 days a year in the car, five of which we spend stuck in traffic, two of which we spend looking for a parking space. Only four days a year do we play with our kids, and only one day a year do we sit comfortably with a drink in the pub. A year has only 365 days. The sum of all the activities is over 200 days per year. Granted, we do one or two things in parallel, for example using the smartphone as a second display next to the TV. That doesn’t make it any better. Add to that just under 100 days of sleep. That doesn’t leave much time for good conversations, meetings with friends, sex, meditation, sports. The imbalance is more than clear.
It’s all about health: we lose it faster than we regain it
The World Health Organization (WHO) classified computer and online gaming addiction as a disease in 2018. In China and South Korea, there are military-style camps for smartphone- and online-addicted youth. Extreme discipline and a complete absence of screens are intended to foster the appropriate use of technology. In Japan, birth rates are falling, partly because young men now find sexual satisfaction entirely on the internet and are no longer able to form relationships with real-life women.
It’s all about technology dominating us
There’s pretty much one cellphone for every person in the world, and half of those are smartphones. They’re very unevenly distributed, but the number of people who have access to at least one is 6 billion. The number of people who have access to a toilet is only 2.5 billion. Toilets have been around since the Babylonians, cellphones just over 30 years.
Technology promises us a better, faster, and more beautiful life. The advertising of big tech, Silicon Valley companies, product manufacturers and retail chains promises us a life on the sunny side, if we just buy, own and use enough technology. Happiness comes from buying the latest phone, the latest tablet, the latest car, the latest microwave, the latest electronic hairbrush. We have the best life when we leave traces of our thoughts and actions on social networks – when we believe and follow what is sold to us on social media as the lives of others. When we feed our egos with likes. When we produce data and provide it to anonymous entities. When we think our truth is the only truth, in bubbles built by algorithms, and only communicate with people who think, act and live like us.
It is about us, the people
Technology creates distance and closeness, security and anxiety. We love to hate it and we hate to love it. Communicating with others is easier for us; we are faster at gathering information, finding directions, the best restaurants and hippest bars. We travel fast, creating the illusion of omnipresence, being everywhere and nowhere. We create a digital shell for ourselves that does not remain in virtual space but protrudes into analog space. Those who are engrossed in their cellphones are not responsive and do not perceive the real world. People sitting in their cars are not social, but egoistic. Those who communicate with instances at a distance don’t talk to their neighbors.
Technology has always promised us a better life: faster, easier, more comfortable, safer, more focused, tidier, or even just more fun. What we often get is a less real version of life. Technology as such is neutral; it’s only how we handle it that makes it good or bad. Communicating how technology works, what role it can play, and what its limitations are is critical to its perception, value, and judgment.
I am far from condemning technology. On the contrary, it has done far too many positive things, made our lives longer, better, safer, healthier, more convenient, more enjoyable. I wouldn’t be in technology development for over 30 years if I had fundamental doubts about it. It’s a question of balance between benefit and overload, between inclusion and exclusion, between communication and ignorance. Technology is neither good nor bad per se; it becomes good and bad technology through our actions.
The good news is: we are in control of our actions. We can initiate the changes we need for a better life with the appropriate tools. We can put ourselves in the driver’s seat. We can take the wheel.
It’s all about technical documentation and communication
Technical documentation is a central part of communication between people and technology. It gives access and provides benefits and security. We can’t do without it. It is a central part of the interaction between man and machine, between manufacturer and customer, between challenge and benefit. It creates value by enabling, facilitating and simplifying the use of technology.
Discover the keynote
More thoughts and exciting ideas on the balancing act of man and technology are available as a keynote at the tekom Frühjahrstagung 2022, from April 6 to 7 in Potsdam, or via live broadcast with online ticket.
- Balancing act: dancing on a tightrope called technology - 9 March 2022