“Technology” is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the study and knowledge of the practical, especially industrial, use of scientific discoveries.” In this broad definition, technology encompasses everything from the use of primitive tools for hunting in ancient history to the cutting-edge smartphones we have today; technology is as old as civilization itself. In today’s context, technology usually refers to advancements in energy, manufacturing, and communication.
Technological advancements have accelerated in recent centuries and are more pronounced than ever in our 21st century.
It seems that every time there is technological progress in an area, it becomes old news very quickly.
Whole industries are devoted to the development of newer and better technologies so that we can live healthier, happier, and longer.
It is worth pausing to consider what benefit or harm all this advancement in technology has brought us.
Are we truly healthier and happier because of technology? What are the drawbacks to all this progress?
There is little doubt that this century will be remembered by future historians as the golden age of technology.
But what else will they say about the impact that technology is having on our world right now? What will they say about the advantages and disadvantages that current technology is having on our young century?
Let’s dive right in to look at the advantages technology has brought us, as well as the disadvantages.
12 Technology Advantages
1. The improvement of productivity
Technology has played a key role in driving productivity for businesses in a way that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago.
Advancements in manufacturing and assembly-line technology mean that goods can be produced at an incredible rate.
Machines and robots have been able to cut down the cost of production and drive up output. Whether it’s canned foods or clothing or furniture, companies with economies of scale can produce large quantities of their products in a way that can meet market demand.
2. Better and easier communication between people
Arguably, the greatest advancement in technology in the last century was the invention of the Internet; it has truly changed every aspect of life and made the world more interconnected.
Thanks to the Internet or mobile technology, someone in Asia can communicate with another person in America in a matter of seconds.
First came Facebook, which allowed people to post updates about themselves and communicate with the world.
Then came Skype, allowing people to communicate with each other visually, at little additional cost. Then came Whatsapp, allowing people to send messages to each other without limitation.
And new communication apps keep coming up all the time. Video calls and conferences have become the norm. The old barrier of communication — geographical distance —- has been broken down for good.
3. Saves time in processes and tasks
Both blue-collar jobs and white-collar jobs have become more efficient due to advancements in technology.
For blue-collar jobs, automation has streamlined many processes that traditionally require greater human input — reducing error and saving time.
For white-collar jobs, the avalanche of new productivity apps and software means that workers can get more done in a shorter amount of time, cutting down bureaucracy and other barriers to effective communication.
Technology has functioned as an aid to human efficiency, much like an artificial arm; it has enabled tasks to be completed in a shorter amount of time with greater results.
4. Allows Remote Education
In all past centuries, getting an education required the learner to go to a physical location (for example, a university), learn from a teacher in-person, and read physical books.
This often meant that the less fortunate, or simply those who lived in poorly connected towns, could not receive a proper education.
Technology has changed all that. The advent of the Internet itself has made knowledge ubiquitous – anyone can now log onto Wikipedia and find some information about something.
Anyone can purchase an ebook, even if the physical version of the book is unavailable at their current location.
Moreover, tertiary education centers have also opened up to offer online courses and allow for remote learning. This means that it is now possible for someone to get a degree without ever meeting his or her professor in person. This has made education more accessible than ever.
5. Cheaper Manufacturing of Products
In the past, the manufacturing industry involved individuals having to labor to produce each item, one at a time.
For example, in the clothing industry, every piece of clothing had to be hand-sewn — meaning that someone would need to spend hours (or days) producing a piece of clothing before it could be sold in the market. This meant the cost of manufacturing per item was much higher because it required personal labor.
Technology has changed all that. Now, a piece of clothing can be produced within minutes by an automated production line. As a result, the cost per item has been driven down significantly.
6. Artificial Intelligence Can Make Lives Easier and Solve Complex Problems
The phrase ‘artificial intelligence’ can sometimes conjure up images of sentient robots taking over the world. However, artificial intelligence means so much more than that.
Artificial intelligence is broadly defined as technologies that mimic human cognitive functions and can learn to solve problems.
For example, Twitter uses artificial intelligence to identify probable hate speech and racist content. Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, is also an example of artificial intelligence — it learns to adapt to instructions and preferences with continual use.
The ability of some software to anticipate human behavior has made our lives easier and our relationship with technology smoother.
7. More Mobility Options
History records that the Wright Brothers invented the airplanes in the early 1900s, which was hailed as a miracle at the time.
Before the previous century, ‘flying’ was a human fantasy, and nothing more. The invention of airplanes changed everything; it enabled distant places to be connected in a previously impossible way.
Of course, it wasn’t just planes that changed the way we travel. The advancement in personal and commercial vehicles, such as cars and trains, have also made mobility easier and faster. Now, anyone can travel from any major city in the world to another in less than a day.
8. Financial transactions and payments are easier and more secure
In the past, money always had to be stored in a physical location; thieves could break into your home and could steal all your money if they found out where you stored it.
Now, money exists in both the physical form as well as the digital, reducing the risk of losing everything from a single act of physical theft.
The advancement in financial technology also means that entire financial transactions can be completed online. Moreover, innovative banking smartphone apps can help us make more informed financial decisions or even save money.
The use of single-use codes, multiple passwords, encryption etc have also made financial transactions more secure.
Someone from one country can send money to another person in another without worrying about the money getting lost in transition. Fraudulent transactions are also more easily traced and flagged due to technology.
9. Cloud computing and cloud services
The definition of the word ‘cloud’ has undergone a paradigm transformation in the past few decades; it used to refer exclusively to the white masses of condensed water vapor in the sky, now it can also mean the network of remote servers and storage used to hold data and provide computing services.
Practically, it means that users can now store their data in a virtual ‘cloud’, and access that data from any device anywhere in the world. This means that people can store important data more securely than ever before.
Moreover, renting IT infrastructure, service or software which resides on the “cloud” is more cost-effective on the long run and removes the headache of managing and supporting a local (on-premises) computing environment.
10. Helps in health and for discovering new cures
Technology and modern medicine have become inseparable; modern medicine simply cannot exist without technology.
Technology is used to manufacture drugs safely and in a large enough quantity to meet the health needs of the global population.
Advancements in medical technology mean that crucial drugs such as anti-malaria pills and AIDS medication can reach the people who need it the most.
Technology is also used to research and produce vaccines that protect us from some of the worst diseases in the world.
Today, technology is playing an indispensable role in helping humanity search for a vaccine for the new virus pandemic, and to ensure that it can be mass-produced as quickly as possible once discovered.
11. Solar Energy Generation
While much is said about the negative impact technology is having on the environment, it’s possible that technology will evolve to the point where it’s actually solving our ecological crisis.
There’s no denying that many technological innovations harm the planet. One only has to look at our dependence on fossil fuels to see the connection.
However, green energy may soon allow cities and towns everywhere to thrive without harming the planet.
Solar energy may even provide a more affordable solution that ultimately creates access to heating, cooling, and electricity generation for people at all income levels around the globe.
Robots may soon be able to complete dangerous work that costs hundreds of human lives every year. Robot technology is already being used for bomb detection.
It’s possible that robots may soon be advanced enough to take over dangerous tasks that expose human workers to environmental safety hazards.
As the economy evolves, robots may even take over mundane work that humans no longer find fulfilling.
12 Technology Disadvantages
1. Can be bad for the environment
Advancements in technology have been overwhelmingly bad for the environment; technology has contributed to environmental deterioration far more quickly than it has contributed to solving environmental problems.
The clearest example of this is the widespread production and use of plastic and factory emissions. All of us would have heard of how significant amounts of plastic have made their way into our oceans and threatened marine life.
Another example of technology harming the environment is the unchecked activities of the logging industry in some countries – the forests in some parts of the world have been stripped bare as a result.
Never in history has human behavior contributed so acutely to damaging the environment and wildlife; it is a modern tragedy.
2. Technology might be able to replace humans in jobs
The important role that technology plays in automation has a dark side — if every part of the manufacturing process can be automated, why hire humans at all?
Technological automation can typically produce greater results with fewer mistakes. The threat of technology to human jobs is ominous — a world in which technology has a monopoly on the manufacturing process is simply unsustainable.
If technology advances beyond the political will to save jobs, it could spell disaster for millions.
3. Technology can distract students from studying
Technology has indeed made learning more fun and interactive for many, however, it can only confer such benefits if one is interested to learn in the first place.
Many young students have access to handphones today, especially those living in advanced countries.
The problem with mobile devices is that it is a gateway to a world of distractions, from social media posts to memes to YouTube videos.
A minute of distraction can easily turn into hours. This poses a considerable challenge to educators.
4. Lowers socializing (social disconnect)
The paradoxical effect of technology is that it has simultaneously made the world more interconnected and less interconnected.
How does this happen? By making remote communication so easy, technology has also disincentives in-person socialization.
Today, everyone can be ‘friends’ on Facebook without spending time to meet and socialize in real life. Instead of meeting over a meal, more and more people are opting to simply send a Whatsapp message instead.
As people become more connected digitally, they have sadly also become more disconnected socially. Technology does a great job of giving the ‘illusion’ of a full social life in the absence of a real one.
5. Malfunctions can cause severe problems
The world in the 21st century is heavily reliant on technology — sometimes too reliant. If all of our lives are lived digitally — from our relationships to our work to our shopping — what will happen if the Internet malfunctioned?
This seems very unlikely to many and is precisely what is causing the world to be so unprepared if our technology suffers a serious malfunction.
Already we have seen the chaos that ensues when online banking and booking systems are temporarily down unexpectedly. If our technology is taken from us, will we still know how to function?
6. Data security and privacy problems
What exactly is the extent of privacy in the 21st century? That is an impossible question to answer, precisely because no one knows for sure.
Some software are designed with privacy loopholes that make them incredibly susceptible to attack; even software that have data encryption services still suffer rumors of being susceptible to state surveillance.
A famous saying goes, “what goes up on the Internet lives forever.” Can we truly be assured of our privacy when there are so many bad faith actors out there wanting to disregard it?
“Ochlocracy” is a word that means the rule by a mob. A mob is a group of angry people intent on carrying out punishment on somebody, regardless of the law and whether that person has committed a genuine crime.
The Internet has given new meaning to this word — a mob can now be a bunch of anonymous people intent on punishing anyone on social media.
It is now easier for people to post hate messages against someone while being completely untraceable. This has given rise to cyberbullying, and it is a problem that governments are finding hard to solve.
8. It can lead to health problems
The famous Chernobyl disaster that occurred in 1986 was a nuclear accident unprecedented in its scope — thousands have died from the effect of radiation from that one disaster.
The Chernobyl accident is perhaps the most serious example of how advancements in technology (in this case, nuclear energy) can negatively impact human health.
However, everyday examples of how technology can lead to health problems also exist — from subtle ways like over-processing in foods to overt examples such as factory waste emissions.
9. Misinformation from the Internet
The Internet has made it incredibly easy for someone to start a rumor, package it as truth, and spread it to a large number of people.
An untruth that is started on the Internet is a difficult thing to kill — all it takes is for someone online to keep repeating it for it to live forever.
‘Deepfakes’ — the production of fake videos that are nearly indistinguishable from genuine ones — make misinformation all that more potent.
As a result of half-truths and whole lies spread over the Internet, our democracies and elections can sometimes be compromised.
10. Difficult to learn for older generations of people
For technology to truly level the playing field, it should be accessible to people of all ages, and not just the young.
Some of the elderly feel shut out as a result of technology becoming more and more integral to everyday life.
For the elderly, the disconnect is understandable — they are, after all, forced to reckon with new technologies that they have never encountered previously in their lives.
Many of the elderly grew up on pen and paper and find it challenging to adapt to digital writing.
To keep up with the Internet, the elderly are forced to learn a language that is entirely foreign to them (the Internet can be likened to a foreign language for those unfamiliar with it.)
The disconnect with new technologies can drive home the sense of isolation that many elderly people already feel.
11. Technology Created More Destructive Weapons
One of the downsides of technology is that humans are harnessing their creativity and brainpower to create destructive weapons.
“Smart” weapons have the potential to bring humanity to the brink of destruction. In fact, we are already at a point where entire cities could be wiped out with the press of a button.
We can only expect for technology to become more destructive as advancements in research and development make it easier to do more damage with less effort. Powerfully destructive weapons that fall into the wrong hands could have disastrous repercussions.
12. Reduced Creativity and Intelligence
Are we depending on computers and technology to do the thinking for us a little too much? With enough entertainment available for a person to spend the rest of their lifetime glued to a screen without even making a dent, it’s easy to wonder how anyone can muster up the energy to be creative, motivated, or curious when it comes to real life.
Making matters worse is that many streaming services and media platforms curate content to meet the preferences of each viewer.
That means that we’re having ideas fed to us instead of seeking out new things. Only time will tell if access to unlimited information will actually make us hungrier for knowledge.
In the generations to come, will people look back at this period in history as a time when technology did more good than harm? Or will the opposite be true?
If we suspect that technology is ultimately headed to bring humanity more harm than good, what can we do now to alter that reality?
At the end of the day, it will require the collective effort of us all to ensure that the advantages of technology outweighs its disadvantages. Technology is, after all, human innovation — what we can create we can also tame.