The Dangers of a Convenient Society
by A.E. Cox

May 1st, 2004

You know what bugs me about my generation? There are new things to invent but people seem to be conventrating on inventing the luxuries instead of the really important things. Elaborate stereo systems, DVDs, CDs, etc. They're not things we actually need but we've grown to think we do because of changing technologies today. Think about the 1800s and 1900s where everything was being invented, things people needed like the refrigerator. (Fruits and vegetables could not be stored in the old refrigeration systems. Diets consisted of mostly meat, crackers and breads before this invention.) When we could be inventing these types of things, we tend to focus on inventing things we don't truly need, things to make life almost too convenient.

Do we really need to be able to order groceries online? Do we really need portable electric scanners so we can grocery shop without clerks? Do we really need electronic dogs that fetch the toys we throw them? We're inventing all these things to make us lazy, anti-social beings. We're relying so much on electronics these days to keep us occupied that we're forgetting about the traditional things that are still around and still fun activities: reading, gardening, writing (paper) letters.

One of the main problems I have with this generation is that we're using prescriptive technologies to do things when we should be doing them holistically. Jobs that require personal care and attention (holistic) are being done mechanically, formally (prescriptive). Things that should require people interacting are now all electronic. I mean, does anyone really enjoy the stupid automated options you get when calling a technical support line? No. You want to talk to a person because a machine does not understand what you want, nor can it always provide you with the options you might need. And if you think about it, this is one of the main reasons for high unemployment. Machines are taking over what would normally have been the job of a human being.

A good example of this: education. Personally, I don't think Internet courses are a good idea but there are plenty of them at my university. I think people need to be in an environment with access to certain things in order to learn properly, the main thing being a teacher or professor. That's what they're there for, that's what you're paying for. Sure, they're not always helpful but when I need to ask a question, I want to be able to ask one and not have to wait a day for them to reply to my e-mail. It's ludicrous. In addition, you have the support of your peers. I'm not a social butterfly and don't go to school to make friends and become popular, but I do feel that I sometimes need the help of classmates to understand something. I like discussing class materials with them because it allows me to better understand the course. "Two heads are better than one." There are, yes, things that can be done independently, but not everything. I think teaching requires a teacher, simply put. When talking about children, this applies even more. Children need to ineract, form relationships and learn simple actions such as sharing. School is very important for learning these basics.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Or in my version, if it ain't broke, you can fix it as long as it's widely accessible and affordable. Personally, I refuse to buy many DVDs. I'm not overly concerned with digital quality, surround sound and all that garbage. I'm happy with my VHS tapes until DVDs become less expensive. Besides, there are a lot of older movies and indie films I love that I can't even purchase on DVD right now. In this way, this technology is inconvenient for me.

We can practically predict these days what's going to happen next. For example, voice-over IP (VoIP). It will allow you to pick up your phone and instead of talking through a network, you will be able to talk over the Internet. My dad works for Bell Canada and this is predicted to happen over the next two or three years; he'll be out of a job if it's successful enough. Renting movies over the Internet: there go the video stores. I personally like going into video stores because it's much of a haven for movie gurus. Again, people don't even have to leave their chairs. More laziness. Nanotechnology: the creation of tiny robots at the molecular level, smaller than you can see. These specialized robots are programmed to perform specific tasks, such as in the medical field: going inside veins and unclogging them.

I'm not saying all electronics or modern conveniences are useless (as I type this on my personal computer). I don't know what I would do without the Internet, and I certainly appreciate pizza delivery. There have been many good developments but I think people are wasting their time on useless ones. How about we find a cure for cancer before we start sending people up to the moon in tiny elevators, huh?

One last thought to ponder... new technologies inevitably increase two things: death and crime. The nanotechnology mentioned above could surely be used for vicious purposes. Today, identity theft is fairly common. Despite encryption, people can still steal credit card numbers. And nowadays, especially with the Internet, things like copyright and intellectual properly rights are becoming more important. People are finding more and more ways to get around paying for things. We can download full albums for free, we can download books and copy DVDs. Whether we like to admit it or not, many of these things are illegal (whether they should be or not is another question). It's very easy now to get passed the law and although this can affect people in small and less serious ways, they can also have large, negative impacts on society as a whole.