October 6, 2021

5 ways technology’s impact is a force for good

BY DOUGLAS ROSS

Earth from outer space

Remember how everyone in the 60’s thought we’d be in flying cars by now?

Overoptimistic, sure. But what’s more fantastical, flying cars or everything we’ve ever created, discussed and done as a species discoverable in a hand-held device?

It’s impossible to predict technology’s impact, but you can get an idea by looking at how it’s improving the world right now.

There are 1,000 and more ways tech is helping humans, but we thought to focus on five that are promising a real impact for the future.

1. Access to information is making us more empathetic

There’s a lot of talk about technology’s impact on the ‘culture wars’. But there are plenty of reasons to think it’s having a larger impact for good.

A 2020 study of 15,000 people around the world found:

  • 68% thought tech increased learning opportunities
  • 67% thought it led to innovation
  • 63% thought it led to more social connection, and
  • 54% thought it increased a sense of community.

There were also changes following the COVID-19 pandemic. 79% of respondents to the study said the pandemic had increased how comfortable they were with their personal tech capabilities.

All of us are becoming more confident with our tech and more aware of its downsides. When we consider how young digital technology still is, there’s good reason to have hope for our ability to learn how to avoid its downsides and make the most of its capabilities.

2. The convergence of tech is creating hope

It often takes various technologies to work together before they create real change in society.

Economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin proposes that worldwide change often comes when new energy systems meet with new communications systems. Think about what happened when steam power met with enhanced printing and rail networks. Or when electricity teamed up with the advent of the telephone, radio and then television.

In the first two decades of the 21st century, the potential of the internet (a form of communications) has been kept at bay by our reliance on old forms of energy (fossil fuels).

In 2021, we’re now seeing a global shift to renewable energy sources and distribution (driven by both political/social will, as well as the global market). What this means is the digital connection that internet technology has promised can now result in new innovations and solutions.

Rifkin believes this will result in decentralised modes of production. For instance, energy production will shift from central companies into the hands of everyday people who share energy with each other through local grids. This then drives down the price of energy and upends it as a commodity. Whatever that means for our economy is anyone’s guess. What’s clear is this convergence of the internet and renewable energy could have a major impact on many aspects of our lives.

3. Tech is creating space for the natural world to return

Technology as a communications tool is helping us build a hive mind. Like bees, we’re learning as a single species about the same things at the same time.

Of course, as technology impacts how we communicate, it affects society in real ways. For example, in health and political outcomes. It’s important to remember how to communicate with empathy to drive technology’s growth and the authenticity of all our interactions.

This multilateral growth of knowledge and empathy is driving environmental action. In 2021, there’s a global tailwind sending us in exciting directions for environmental regeneration.

Take one example: parking.

There’s a good argument being made right now that we will likely stop owning our own cars and start subscribing to a driving services. This is once automated driverless cars take over the world!

What happens when you just tap a button and order a driverless electric car – a car always on the move, which doesn’t require a space? What happens to our parking spaces, both at home and on our streets?

An estimated 30,000 square kilometres is devoted to parking in Europe. That’s the equivalent to 20 Londons. What could we do with all the spare land? Farm? Rewild giant areas of land? Create new housing solutions? The possibilities are endless, thanks to the promise of technology for our transportation systems of the future.

4. Accessibility is being redefined in the post-COVID era

The global coronavirus pandemic impacted how we work, sure. But it also had a major impact on the connections and opportunities available to people living with disabilities.

We no longer assume that business can only be done in the office. It can be done anywhere, giving those who can’t travel the ability to contribute and lead in more areas of society.

It’s not just business and employment that’s been brought to people’s homes. Art, theatre, religion, and health services were forced to go online. And now you can see how valuable they can be for those who couldn’t access them before the pandemic.

5. We’re incorporating natural organisms into our tech solutions

“The utility value of nature is slowly giving way to the intrinsic value of nature,” said Jeremy Rifkin in his book The Third Industrial Revolution.

Tech is helping us rediscover our relationship with the natural world and find new ways to use natural organisms and processes to solve for problems.

Whether it’s plastic-eating enzymes, methane-reducing seaweed or just discovering the science behind why nature is so good for our health, the natural environment is having its own revolution. Why? Because technological advances help us remember and better understand its value .

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