Technology: Virtue or Vice?

As I write this, I am struggling to resist the urge to look at Facebook, peek at my email and check my phone. Even though I have checked them all in the last half an hour and am fairly sure there will be nothing of urgency on any of them, I hate the thought of not being completely up to date. That’s because I was born into a generation that expects instant gratification. It is impossible to deny that the advancements in technology over the past 25 years have drastically changed our lives forever. Everything from instant messages to downloading music to films on-demand has heightened people’s sense of urgency.

Young people these days may be alarmed to hear that, not that long ago, if you met someone you liked, you would actually have to find out more than their name to contact them again. And if you did manage to get their number, there was no option of a short, quick text; you would actually have to ring them! But in 2012 we no longer need the long process of meeting, going out on dates and long conversations to get to know people. We fully expect to be able to type in anyone’s name in the entire world into Facebook and get a good idea of their life, history, friendships and hobbies in a matter of minutes. But what’s the rush?

I never like to wait for replies to anything anymore. I can’t imagine living in a world where the phone was specifically connected to a building and you’d have to wait for someone to be in to talk to them, let alone the days of letter writing. With mobile phones, and especially smart phones, I automatically expect that I can contact someone at any point, wherever they are. But with all that luxury and convenience comes a price; and I am not talking about pound coins.

Once a virtue, patience is becoming as rare as someone telling you they’re ‘not on Facebook’. Growing up as part of the generation that wants to know everything and wants to know it now, I never really learnt that particular character trait. When I went on holiday to Greece this summer my phone didn’t work at all and, at first, I was annoyed. But after a few days it was a real sense of relief and serenity. I wasn’t checking my phone every 5 minutes to see if I had any texts, Facebook messages or interesting tweets. And I actually enjoyed my holiday.

So although people may save time and energy in our accelerated world (especially now Google reveals possible matches while you’re still typing in your request!) we lose so much more. The need for instant gratification has resulted in an impatient generation who don’t take time for contemplation and relaxation. The need for a quick technology fix is making people not only less focused and considerate but raises concerns about our work ethic and social interactions. How many of you routinely check your texts and emails while having dinner with friends or in the middle of a lecture? Even though we know it’s impolite, a high proportion of us are so addicted to instant technology that we never unplug, we never take a break. So before we discover a new generation of people who want things even faster than we do, who spend more time talking to people via text than to their face and who get their first iPhone on their third birthday, I say we put the gadgets down. Or at least, we stop checking them every 5 minutes out of ‘fear of missing out’. The truth is, whatever it is will still be there later.

Rhian Mullis.

Call me old, but I still remember the days before internet and mobile phones. When we first got internet in our house, it was dial-up. You could only use it for very short amounts of time, because no one could phone you whilst you were on the web, and it was before the days of Facebook, so there wasn’t much to do anyway. When we finally got broadband, I didn’t have my own laptop, and the home computer was so old, it wasn’t worth waiting half hour for it to load just to check my email. I didn’t have a mobile phone. So… I rang people up.

I hate talking on the phone. There’s always the awkward beginning, where you have to adhere to proper telephone etiquette by saying certain niceties and asking certain questions, before you’re allowed to move on to the real reason for your call. And then there’s the awkward end, when you try to signal that you want to go by saying you have lots to do, and they blatantly ignore your attempts to escape by bringing up a new subject, oblivious to your hatred of phone calls. So the new age of texting, instant messaging, Facebook and email has made my life so much simpler. And because it’s quick and easy, I talk to my friends much more than I ever did before.

When you go off to uni, there are inevitably people you lose touch with, but it’s much easier when ‘keeping in touch’ only involves writing the occasional ‘Hey! How’s uni going? Looks like you’re having a great time!’ on their Facebook wall. Perhaps this sounds like a shallow friendship, but my bond with my close friends has only been improved by technology, because I’m able to talk to them every single day. I know exactly what my friend are doing at all times, and as such, I know whether they’re happy or not, and whether they need me. Furthermore, I can talk to them for hours without running up a bill.

I’m that person who’s always on Facebook. You can always contact me, and the only reason for me not replying is that I’m asleep. If you’re in a crisis at 3am, you can contact me and I’ll be there. That’s why instant technology is amazing. And if you don’t like the stress and pressure of being contactable at all times, switch your phone off. Say it’s broken. Sit back and relax. Simple as that.

Personally though, I want to know. I want to know that my friend just got the job she wanted, I want to know what controversial thing the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons today, and I want to know that Sarah Millican just found a twix in her handbag. Modern technology means that we can share knowledge and ideas in an instant, and that’s amazing. It also weirdly allows us to spread joy, as Sarah Millican’s happiness at finding that twix bar genuinely made me happy too. It’s about connecting with people, whoever they are and, amazingly, wherever they are.

Katy McIntosh.

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