TechMunch: Is technology driving change or do people drive technology?

In our inaugural TechMunch post, my colleague, Lakshmi, finished her post by saying “the opportunity for physical interaction, the opportunity to use all of our senses, and just connect as people, has become all the more powerful.” This week, I ask the question is it the technology itself or us driving change through technology?

Technological determinism vs social determinism.

At its most basic level, technological determinism presumes that a society’s technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values, whilst social determinism is the theory that social interactions and constructs alone determine individual behaviour.

As with everything though, it is a bit more complicated than that. We as a society determine the effects of technology but increasingly, the growing ubiquitous presence of smartphones, gaming consoles, smart health devices and more means it is more of a two-way relationship than ever before.

With so many technologies currently being pushed as the ‘next big thing’, it’s no wonder that this argument is arising more and more. From driverless cars to Google’s AlphaGo beating a human at the Ancient Chinese (and confusing!) game of Go, people are asking: who or what is making this happen? Deep Learning allows machines to learn from existing algorithms to make recommendations, whether that be the next move in a game of Go or identifying whether a tumour in a patient is cancerous or benign. Ultimately, we are making these machines smarter but also allowing – within parameters – for them to teach themselves.

Technology is developing at such a rate that we have become impatient, always wanting the next piece of amazing tech without appreciating the last. As communications professionals, we feel the pressure of this rapid development – it barely feels like we have discussed IoT before AI and VR are upon us. And then of course, there was Augmented Reality in the form of Pokemon Go, but that’s for another time.

Humans are often creatures of habit and this rate of evolution has caused disruption in society. We’re currently going through what is probably the most dramatic period of technological change in many a lifetime.

All of this has meant we have become inevitably reliant on technology. From Uber to Deliveroo, it may be a cliché but the world really is at our fingertips. In the office, if our emails are down for a few hours, we struggle to do our jobs. If you accidentally leave your mobile at home for the day, you feel annoyingly disconnected. Even fitness tracking has been neatly put into a wristwatch for our convenience.

However, as philosopher Nick Bostrom argues, it goes further than this. Computers have an integral role to play in flying planes and soon the same will be said of many things from driverless cars to healthcare. We are dependent on these machines and whilst this almost apocalyptic thought probably won’t happen, we always wonder – what if the machine bites back?

It’s clear that the world is becoming more digitalised and more virtual as we let these technologies become an integral part of everyday life. We have developed some truly brilliant technology that can do all sorts of things for us, but we are then susceptible to becoming reliant on it and struggle when it breaks down. I know myself that if emails were to go down for example, a PR’s job would become a whole lot harder.

We may be ultimately in the driving seat but technology has become so completely enmeshed in our culture, it’s become something of chicken and egg. It’s very near impossible to separate the two.

But without our desire for new technologies – and perhaps an easier life – we would still be stuck using our Nokia 3310s, hailing a black cab and having to wait to turn the central heating on when we get home. And who wants to do be doing that?

It is the human race that is driving change through technology – and we are doing it at increasing speeds. Landmark pieces of equipment, from the iPhone to the Oculus Rift, have seemingly reshaped society over the past 10 years and our views on what is possible moving forward. We are in control of this shift and over the coming years, we’ll undoubtedly continue to transform our lifestyles through technology and use it to survive, thrive – and probably, drive.

Charlie Crockwell, Senior Account Executive, Technology