Thursday, 28 June 2012

Has computer technology taken over your life?

Using a computer to write about computers is like searching for Google on Google!  But whether we like it or not, computers have invaded our work, homes, schools and life.  When we are suddenly without them, we are incapable of functioning and our stress levels are raised with the concern of losing our lives!  This I recently witnessed when my daughter’s computer “acquired” an operating system error and she thought she had lost her entire 1st and 2nd year University work in a few seconds.

Computer technology has become so much a part of our lives, that we cannot imagine a life without it. Computers serve as efficient data storage systems and excellent information processors. They can store, organize and manage huge amounts of data. Moreover, they operate on incomparable speeds, thus saving us time and effort. True, they are an integral part of our lives. It is said that inventions change the way we live. Computer technology is a classic example of this adage.

Computer technology has evolved in leaps and bounds from the original Abacus to calculators, desktops, laptops, palmtops, PDA’s, iPads, iPhones, etc, etc. They have become smaller and more portable as the years have past.  How has this affected our lives?  Well we can now remain connected to the world at all times.  Family and friends are just a click away! Work is no more location-dependent!  Now is this a good or bad thing?

I personally believe technology is a double edged sword, on one side we have the convenience of being able to have immediate access to information and greater contact with people all over the world.  On the other edge of the sword, technology can become our masters, mobiles that keep us in contact with the world almost non-stop, email that never stops, and so on. Technology brings many good things to our lives, better health care, more convenience, and sometimes an extra minute or two to do something else, but technology can also cause more stress from being connected to work all the time, or when it breaks down! We have to balance our reliance on technology with the other needs of life.

Then there is the pressure on our children wanting the latest technology available and the number of hours they spend indoors playing computer games and missing out on the human interaction achieved by playing sports, etc.

I read a recent article about UK children watching an average of more than 4 ½ hours screen time a day (that is television and internet); 62% of children between 5 and 16 have their own computer and 46% of those have internet access in their own rooms. The survey also found that children regularly use their mobile phones and games consoles to access the internet.  70% of children between 5 and 16 have their own mobile phones and this rises to 97% from the age of 11. 36% of 7 to 10 had Facebook accounts despite the age limit!  The question I ask is, “how is this trend of online interaction going to affect the social interaction of our children in the future?  Are we developing a world of recluses?”

Yet another issue is the peer pressure put on our children to own the latest mobile, computer on the market.  More than one million text messages are sent every day and many people see them as one of the best ways of communicating.  But what happens when a mobile phone becomes more than just another piece of technology? Just a few years ago, we all seemed to manage pretty well without a mobile phone. But now, every child, adult and pensioner seems to have one attached to their ear – or are frantically tapping away writing texts. There’s no doubt mobiles can give us the benefits of immediate communication – it can help juggle family schedules and provide a great reassurance when, for example, a child is late home. But what happens when mobile phones lose their place as a thing of convenience, and become something that can even prompt criminal activity among the children who rely on them so much?

A recent article went on to explain that in extreme cases, some youngsters had been known to steal money from their parents to “feed their habit”, while others had become reclusive from their families and schoolwork had suffered.  Children have become “dependent” on their mobile phones (almost like a comfort blanket). Getting a phone call or text message implies an importance. It boosts self-esteem and self-worth.  This leads to huge peer pressure to have a mobile phone with the latest technology and design.  And the stress of wanting an equal flow of contact can be soul-destroying if it doesn’t materialise.

Having said this however, we shouldn’t forget that mobiles can be great for safety and communication, but we shouldn’t lose parental discipline about using them.

This is not only an issue at home but can also be a problem in the work place with staff wanting the latest technology in the belief that it will make them work better!  Take the iPad for instance; is it a useful business tool or just a nice to have?  I believe in some instances it is a useful business tool; expensive but definitely useful.  But there are many other things that can do the same job.  Yes, it’s convenient access to social media outlets, but can’t laptops and computers and even Smartphone’s do the same thing.  Maybe someday in the future, when iPads are cheaper, this could be a possibility, but for now, I think most companies will be waiting.

So in the end it appears we cannot escape computers, but we can second guess ourselves when choosing to buy one, use one, or suggest the use of one. When you are faced with the decision to add a new program to your home computer, or upgrade to the latest “more improved” technological device - resist. Let computers simply be one detail to your life that makes things just a little bit easier. But remember: When your computer blows up, it shouldn't mean that your life has blown up.

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