Today technology is influencing practically every aspect of our lives. The pace and scope of its development is so fast and widespread, that it gives rise to an apprehension that one day it may take control of our lives. One shudders to think of that day when it may make us totally redundant or we may become its slaves.
It is therefore important for us to consider whether we should allow it to do so. And if the answer is NO, then we must find ways to keep pace with it on one hand and learn to harmonize our thoughts and action with it.
The big question is how can this be done? The answer is not simple and straight.
One way of finding an answer, is to personify technology. In other words, let us consider that technology is also like a human being-growing from childhood to adulthood. This approach has a great advantage because then we are dealing with interpersonal relationship of two humans- say parents nurturing their wards (after all, humans have only brought technology as well as children into the world), from the stage of toddler to school going children to adolescent (teenagers) and finally to adulthood. It may be recalled that technological development has passed through practically all the aforesaid stages.
When technology was a toddler and growing to the stage of teenager:
When a child learns to walk, s/he is referred to as a toddler. The toddler stage is characterized by much growth and change, mood swings and a lot of innocent experimentation. Technology had started becoming commonplace in India in the 60’s and early 70’s with the advent of Radio and later the Television. Technology had started growing up in Indian homes, just like a toddler, displaying following characteristics:
It needed to be nurtured and supported: During development stage, technology also needed support, as the child needs it when s/he stumbles.
Snags had to be removed and mistakes had to be corrected: At that tender age it faulted at times and the parent would lovingly take care of it. If technology was not able provide desired results, the mistakes could be corrected, just how a parent responds when the child throw a tantrum.
It needed pampering: Sometimes the technology also had to be pampered. Many gadgets for example, were so delicate that any rough handling could result in erratic behavior. It needed to be handled with care.
It also needed attention: Like a toddler, technology also needed attention. If left unattended it could not only harm itself but also adversely affect its surroundings, we had to be careful about over heating of the instant electric geysers.
It Listened: Nevertheless, just like a child, it would still listen and abide by the instructions. In case it did not listen, it could be spanked and made to behave (for example when a TV would suddenly develop disturbing sounds with several horizontal grid lines, the problem could be overcome by simply tapping on TV top).
Intervention also required: Although technology learnt to improve by itself to some extent, but human intervention became necessary when it reached its limits.
It could also be ‘pushed’: Technology could also be pushed to produce desired results, if certain snags hampered its progress (remember the Ambassador and Fiat cars could be pushed to start, if did not do it by itself after a couple of days of non-use).
It could be ‘driven’ and ‘maneuvered’: Automobiles were could ‘driven’ and ‘maneuvered’ to follow the desired path, just as the little toddler is mostly guided by the parent holding her hand and nudging her to toe the line.
When technology became teenager
A person aged between 13 and 19 is generally referred to as a teenager. It also happens to be adolescent stage of a child. The technology, at the present stage of development, can be said to be at the stage, which is more or less akin to the adolescent stage of a child. It displays similar characteristics / qualities as that of a teenager. The typical characteristics of a teenager or that of an adolescent, which the technology also displays at this stage of its development, can be briefly described as follows:
Mind of its own (it self-learns and cannot be taught all the time): The technology started to, partially learn by itself, just as a child at this stage of development displays mind of his own. It did not need spoon feeding at every stage and could perform many functions by itself (remember the earlier stages of development of computers).
Believes in action, more than thought: A teenager is always bubbling with energy, having a bias towards action. Similarly, technology also started displaying its ability of dynamism in action, like the programmed Robots in a production unit.
Parent (one who created it) cannot comprehend its action: It is hard for the parents to anticipate or fully understand the action contemplated by the teenager. Similarly it is hard for the user, of a technology driven gadget or machines, to predict all possible outcomes. Technology is able to take corrective actions on its own without any human intervention; Artificial General Intelligence driven robots can be beyond human comprehension.
Peers become more important than parents: It is a common experience of parents, who have or are seeing their wards growing to become teenager, is that children at this stage listen to the advice or copy their peers more than their parents. They ‘network’ with peers better than with parents, as computers do in a networking environment, without any intervention or assistance from the parent. Parent is mostly forgotten.
Fiercely independent: Like a teenager, technology is also tending to be fiercely independent, in as much as it is able to find its way, in case it encounters any hindrance or an unusual event.
Self-evolving: Teenagers, as they grow in age, gradually evolve to become better and more fruitful. Similarly technology has also gradually evolved from 1D through 2D and 3D to 4D; as also data speeds evolving from 2G to 4G and now getting to 5G, shortly.
Self-learning: Teenage also brings maturity to some extent. Self- learning abilities get enhanced. Machine learning algorithms are mostly built around self-correcting techniques and do not need outside intervention.
Self-healing: In the case of technology, it is already under display in some of the fields like IoH- Internet of Humans, IoT- Internet of Things etc. (IoT for health is keeping tab on our activities and lifestyle, pre-empts about when we are going to default next, ‘prompts’ us to comply).
Always thinks it is right: Adolescence brings in certain amount of arrogance. One starts to believe that s/he is always right whether it is true or not. Technology, at this stage, is no different. If you were to ask a Robot, why is there still a 5% error in quality, it would say, “Remove those 60 human beings handling me and I will show you 0% error.”
So where does that leave the parents (Global society of human beings)? What’s their role now?
One thing is clear, that as parents cannot completely control the extent and direction of growth of their children, human beings also cannot do the same with regard to the development & growth of technology. The best course would be to integrate & synergize your thinking and actions in line with technological developments on one hand, and take effective steps to ensure that it does not go astray, on the other.
Here are some suggestions, these may not be comprehensive, but do show a way forward:
Watch it grow- with pride: As technology is also our ‘child’, we should allow it to grow and also take pride in its growth. Growth will ensure that it achieves its potential and becomes useful to the society.
But “watch” it..: During this period of growth, keeping a watch would also be necessary, to ensure that the growth is healthy and not wild and the outcomes are desirable and useful. Something that the world did when nuclear technology was invented.
Keep course corrections in place through a friendly “pat”: As soon as it is noticed that the developments are not on the right lines, course corrections should be attempted with ‘friendly pats’. Remember that teenagers cannot be ordered about, but can be reasoned or cajoled to remain on the right path. Likewise if technological developments are threatening, the world organizations need to come together to devise policies for reigning in the rogue effects of technology.
Change your own behavior to suit the teenage child: Whether it is teenager children or technology (at similar stage), it is not always possible to persuade them to change their ways, (even by reasoning or cajoling), it then becomes imperative for us to change ourselves and adapt to the circumstances, to their ways and lifestyles, because that is going to be the future.
Pre-empt the dangers and safeguard yourself against the onslaught of technology: Even after taking all the steps, suggested above, there is no guarantee that technology will never misbehave and not harm you. Therefore, taking pre-emptive steps (like installing ‘screens’ to prevent ‘bugs’ entering the computers, or building ‘firewalls’ to prevent data leakages), may be desirable. One can also explore the possibility of taking an insurance policy, “against the act of technology”, if such an insurance is possible.
Have a ‘Parents Community’ (an Association): Many times it is not possible to find solutions yourself. However, if the problem is discussed in a group of people, having similar concerns, feasible solutions evolve via collective wisdom.
Support Technology in making it stronger, but make yourself wiser: Remember the riddle, which required you to make a line short, without erasing any part of it? The solution, as you know is to draw a line longer than the given line, thus making the given line look shorter. In the same way it is better to equip yourself, to keep pace with fast changing technologies.
Keep the communication with it open; learn their language: Instead of surrendering to the onslaught of technologies, it would be wiser to learn their ‘language’ (learn to deal with them) and use these to your advantage.
Technology also needs to have a culture…(local culture): Technology, if developed without the knowledge of the culture of the area in which it is going to be used, or the context of its usage, it may become unusable. For example, in the Indian context, the technology should be suited to local conditions and culture. A technology which may be labor intensive but low cost may be more suitable in India. In remote areas, where availability/ usage of electricity is limited, a cooling device, like “Miticool- Village Fridge”, may be more appropriate and acceptable to local people rather than a highly sophisticated, multi-function refrigerator.
Identify real news from ‘fake’ and act accordingly: The technology, at present juncture, is as susceptible to ‘fake’ news as, normally, a teenager is. However, it has to be taught to identify and propagate only real news and ignore, if not eliminate the fake news.
Set of ‘values’ it has to keep: As in a civil society, it is important for children to imbibe and maintain a set of ‘human/social values’, technology must also incorporate and keep similar ‘values’ to remain credible for the users. For example, as it sucks up data about all human beings, it needs to maintain secrecy as required. It must prevent fraud, lies and theft of data. In short, the technology also has to be so developed that it observes all ethical values.
Competition: Competition between teenagers as also amongst competing technologies, is desirable, so long as it remains healthy competition. Only healthy competition can bring about excellence. However, if it deviates from that path and tries to win by adopting unethical ways and means, the ultimate results can only be ‘disaster’.
Prevent it from becoming ‘Bhasmasur’: The present stage of technological development is somewhat akin to an adolescent boy transiting to the stage of adulthood. Unless handled with care, it can become the legendary ‘Bhasmasur’, bent upon destroying the “creator”. Ultimately, he was made to bring about his own end, by the “creator” himself. All those involved in development and use of advanced technologies must learn this lesson carefully, lest they give birth to another ‘Bhasmasur’.
Technology is required by us as much as we need our children.
Next generation of humans as well as that of technology are necessary for progress and progression. Both must grow. Technology is not our adversary, it has become a part of us. Only care has to be taken to keep it in control, so that at no stage, we become its slaves.
Managing Technology is an art that can be practiced by companies and individuals alike to be able to leverage the strengths of Technology to achieve their business and personal goals. An art that can integrate Technology with Management and Business.
As we fade away from this world, we should go with the trust that the technology will provide for the natural resources and basic needs, for inclusive and sustainable development & growth of all future generations of human species to come.
What is needed is Integrating & Synergizing with technology, to manage it well.
Dr. Anuja Agarwal,
Associate Dean – Technology Management,
Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management & Engineering
SVKM’s NMIMS University