Culture

Technology: Are All the Advances Worth the Major Annoyances We Have to Endure?

We’ve seen some astounding developments in consumer technology, but as a result, have to put up with many of the issues that are associated with these advancements. While not Third World problems, they do affect our daily lives.

One of the biggest issues is a loss of privacy. Just about every company can learn who we are, where we live and what we do. They know our likes, dislikes, friends, political views, and almost what we think. There are not only companies that want to sell us things, but internet outlaws who want to steal our identity, credit cards and personal information to sell. If you use Google Maps or Gmail, go to your dashboard and you’ll find a map showing where you’ve been every day for the last several years. (Yes, you can turn it off.)

Because of the services we accept in exchange for giving up our privacy, we’re followed on the internet, in the car and soon at home. Google didn’t pay $3.2 billion for a thermostat company to help us manage our home temperature; they bought it to put a gadget in our home to track us — all with the intention of offering us this dubious convenience in exchange for the ability to better target their advertising.

We love Facebook for how effectively it lets us communicate with friends and relatives, but in a fascinating new book, Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, you’ll learn how Facebook is the mechanism that connects all of our devices to our identity to make advertising more effective.

We are bombarded with advertising everywhere we go, ostensibly matched to our interests and buying intentions — all in the name of making it more effective. But this targeting is far from ideal, as it is unable to discern what we intend to buy from what we actually bought, serving us the same ads wherever we go. After buying a razor from Henry’s, an online seller of low cost blades, its ads hound me on every site I visit.

And the firewall that once existed between advertising and editorial content has been compromised to such an extent that it’s hard to know which articles are accurate and which are created to get more clicks. Anyone can write about anything, and it’s incumbent on us to better understand the integrity of the source.

Technology is responsible for a number of annoyances, including the unceasing flood of robocalls and junk faxes, that are driving all of us crazy. Phone companies could end them in a moment, but the revenue they get is more important than our satisfaction.

Even companies we want to do business with make it difficult to manage their email ads. I used to buy art supplies from Jerry’s Artarama Art Supplies, an otherwise fine mail order company, but they insist on sending an email to me at least once a day. They have no provision to reduce their frequency, so I’ve opted out and moved to another company.

Another negative is the barrage of nastiness that permeates online forums from the Wall Street Journal to Huffington Post to gadget blogs to any forum where people can express their views. They’re filled with venom and hatred, mostly from a vocal minority that has no manners or common decency.

The division between work time and playtime has been eroded with products such as smartphones that intrude on dinner conversations, and make it more difficult to disconnect from the pressures of work.

Next: Don’t despair, there are tremendous benefits that come along with all these annoyances! 

Now the good news.

On the other hand, we’re at the precipice of some amazing advancements that will continue to improve our lives. Self-driving cars are coming. Fuel-efficient cars, including electric and hybrid, are here and continue to gain in popularity. Virtual reality that immerses you in the middle of a virtual world is here and now. And augmented reality that superimposes graphics on the real world has become a huge hit with Pokemon Go. Because of technology, we can now rent a room virtually anywhere in the world in an instant using Airbnb.

What else? We can look forward to the demise of cable TV as we know it. Instead of being forced to pay hundreds a month for stations we never watch, we will be able to buy programming a la carte from an assortment of suppliers, including Apple, Netflix, Amazon, HBO, ESPN and many others.

We’ll see more and more of us working from home because it’s working so well for many companies. The American work ethic and productivity are so high that many of these companies are discovering economic benefits to providing this flexibility. About 20 percent of us do it now and that’s expected to more than double over the next decade.

Yes, the positives still outweigh the negatives of technology, particularly if we become more discerning about managing our priorities, and about what we buy and read. Even a techie like me is finding out that I don’t need every new gadget or new technology that comes along. While some are of great benefit, most have a cost associated with them.