The Positive and Negative Effects of Technology

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What are the positive and negative effects of technology? Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

There is no straight answer to whether technology is good or bad for us. In many cases, technology lends a helping hand in accessibility and environmental purposes. However, the integration of technology at work and school has proven to be negative in many ways.

To decide whether or not technology is good for us, take a look at these positive and negative effects of technology.

Positive Effects of Technology

Everywhere you look, there is technology. It’s used to power light bulbs, traffic lights, cars, and phones in people’s hands. These are essential products that are used every day to get by in life in 2022. Additionally, technology aids in creative work and even reduces the use of fossil fuels that harm the environment. Let’s take a closer look at the positive effects of technology.

Accessible Content Creation and Sustainability

The design of certain tech products has a positive effect on people at a cultural and societal level, not just on individuals. It can be a powerful force for social change, which means it must be used responsibly. What does that mean for technology designers?

The Future of Content Creation

The almost universal availability of new technologies is changing the way we create and engage with information. Technological tools like blogging sites, integrated cameras, and free editing software make it possible for anyone to publish new media on any subject and reach a wider audience than ever before. In The Design of Everyday Things, Norman calls this “the rise of the small.” 

Easy access to technology is a game changer for parts of the world with less developed infrastructure. Access to information and low-cost technology has made it possible for people to innovate in brand new ways and develop solutions for their needs based on the resources they have available (like bicycle-powered water pumps and solar chimneys). These designs can then be shared online and adopted wherever they might be useful, even across the world. 

New Technology Supports Sustainable Design

Like content creation, the design of durable goods is also changing as technology evolves. The ability to compare items from different companies online before deciding which to purchase has made competition between manufacturers fiercer than ever. In this environment, more emphasis is placed on aesthetics and features that are likely to entice buyers and give companies an edge. A product can be perfectly designed for its function, but will still lose out to more attractive versions, even if they’re far less functional. 

Trends are another tool companies use to entice repeat buyers—if there is a newer, more fashionable version of a product, buyers are more likely to upgrade. This creates a cycle of consumption: buy something, use it until it breaks or goes out of style, throw it away, and buy another. While this cycle is good for business, the waste it generates is horrible for the environment. 

Thankfully, the combination of new technologies and a growing cultural awareness of sustainability issues is creating a new paradigm that reduces the negative effects of consumerism. It’s easier than ever to design sustainable versions of products (like streaming services rather than physical copies of movies), and environmental friendliness is now a selling point.

TITLE: The Design of Everyday Things
AUTHOR: Don Norman
TIME: 65
READS: 90.5
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-design-of-everyday-things-summary-don-norman

Without Technology, We Wouldn’t Have Essential Needs

We use technology everywhere we go, whether we know it or not. Two people we can thank for inventions that have changed the technology industry are Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, who invented Tesla and Apple products, respectively. Whether or not you’ve bought or used these products, Tesla and Apple set the path for newer and better products that will help keep the Earth sustainable and communication far easier.

Electric Cars (The Story of Tesla)

Around the time Elon Musk started SpaceX, an engineer named J. B. Straubel tried to improve electric car technology by using lithium-ion batteries as a fuel source. He floated this idea around Silicon Valley, looking for investors. In the biography titled Elon Musk, Ashlee Vance explains that no one took much interest—except Musk, who funded Straubel’s work on this new battery technology. They all shared the vision of creating a great car and ending America’s reliance on gasoline.

To build the initial car, the Tesla team used a luxury English car as the base. They replaced the engine with the battery pack, and within six months, they had a drivable electric car that is one of the best-selling cars in 2022. 

The Tesla Team’s Just Cause

Tesla had one hallmark of most great teams: a shared vision, or what Simon Sinek calls a Just Cause. A Just Cause is a big-picture vision that provides a framework for your corporate strategies—like Tesla’s vision of creating a car that would help end America’s reliance on gasoline, thus moving people toward a more sustainable future. In The Infinite Game, Sinek outlines five elements of an effective Just Cause:

  • It stands for something, not against something. While Tesla can frame their Just Cause as being against gasoline, they are also for sustainable energy.
  • It’s idealistic, bold, and ultimately unachievable. Tesla’s goal required them to change the automotive industry.
  • It’s inclusive, inspiring others to join the cause. Tesla needs consumers’ support to drive the car to encourage sustainability.
  • It’s resilient and can endure technological, cultural, political, and industry changes. 
  • It’s service-oriented, aiming to benefit others. Tesla wants humanity to benefit from finding a more sustainable resource than gasoline.
An Environmentally Friendly Car Built for Safety 

For years, the Tesla team has worked to improve safety features and complete performance tests so they could build an electric car that is both environmentally friendly and safe for people to drive. 

Tesla worked on a new car model—the Model S—and refined its manufacturing. Vance explains that Musk wanted to perfect the car, not just create a functional electric car. The team improved the design of the car’s body and reduced the weight of the car by making it out of aluminum, which is only one positive effect of the technological advancements that Musk made. More importantly, though, Teslas are designed to be more sustainable for the environment. The Model S created a path for the Tesla Model 3 Standard Rage Plus to reportedly be the most energy-efficient vehicle on the market by reducing tailpipe emissions and air pollution that causes over eight million deaths a year.

They also added extra features that would enhance Model S. For example, Musk had Tesla’s cars equipped with a touch-screen display, which had never been done in a car before. Although these caused more delays in the production of the car, many of these features are now trademarks of Tesla’s cars. While this is a small feature that isn’t necessarily important for the safety of the car, it does show that Musk is trying to push innovation and improvement in the car industry with the help of technology.

Vance notes that Tesla introduced other features to change the way cars are manufactured, serviced, and sold. Notably, he enabled overnight software upgrades and regenerative braking, which extends the life of brake pads and thus decreases the maintenance needed for the car (instead of brake pads slowing the rotation of the tires, regenerative braking reverses the motor, thus slowing the vehicle down). Additionally, Tesla’s blind spot collision, forward collision, and lane departure warnings reduce the risk of car accidents by alerting drivers before a possible car accident occurs. Customers appreciated these changes, and Tesla’s reputation for quality increased. Without Tesla and Musk’s dedication to perfecting the electric car, it is likely we wouldn’t have as many environmentally friendly and safe cars as we have today.

TITLE: Elon Musk
AUTHOR: Ashlee Vance
TIME: 51
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: elon-musk-summary-ashlee-vance

Smartphones and Home Computers

Apple is one of the leading companies in the world thanks to Steve Jobs’s desire to create a home computer that was easily accessible and simple to navigate. His innovations, his obsessions, and even his shortcomings impacted the way we use computers today.

Jobs’s drive to create an accessible home computer is one reason why it’s easy to work from home in 2022. Additionally, home computers allow us to stream television and movies right from our couches and shop online. Without Apple, streaming and shopping online may have never been possible.

Jobs also made it easier for us to listen to music anytime, anywhere with the portable iPod. Seeing the possibilities of merging the iPod with cellular phones, Jobs launched the iPhone as a combination mobile phone, widescreen iPod, and portable internet device all in one, while replacing the clunky keypads of earlier smartphones with an elegant touchscreen interface. 

Now the iPhone is one of, if not the most, popular products in the world. Every new model that’s released has new features that make it easily accessible for people with hearing and sight disabilities, make it easier to call emergency dispatch, and help you communicate with anyone you want, wherever you want.

Electricity Generation

According to Bill Gates in his book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, generating electricity without emitting carbon dioxide is the most critical step to eliminating carbon emissions because non-carbon electricity can also help reduce emissions in all other categories. For example, electric cars reduce emissions in the transportation category, and electric heat pumps can reduce emissions from furnaces in the heating and cooling category. As of 2021, fossil fuels account for two-thirds of electricity production worldwide, with hydropower contributing 16%, nuclear 10%, and renewable sources (including solar and wind) 11%. Gates highlights solar and nuclear energy as promising renewable/non-carbon energy sources. We’ll briefly discuss each. 

Solar Power

Solar is one of the most widely used and growing renewable electricity sources. Solar has obvious appeal in that the sun is an unlimited source of energy, and solar panels can be scaled up to industrial size and down to individual homes and businesses or even tiny cells that can charge a single device.

Technology Fixes Solar Power’s Discontinuous Availability Issue 

Gates notes that one of the biggest challenges in carbon-less electricity generation is the public’s expectation that electricity will be reliably available 24/7. Unlike fossil fuels that generate energy day or night, solar panels only produce electricity when the sun is shining, meaning less power is available at night, during long or especially heavy storms, and during winter. 

The challenges of discontinuous solar availability add to the complexity of a large-scale switch to solar. For example, Gates notes that it isn’t feasible or economical to use existing battery technology to store the huge amounts of energy cities would need during especially dark periods. Additionally, the uneven distribution of sunlight throughout the year creates the problematic question of whether to invest in enough solar panels for the winter (in which case you’d have too much power during the summer) or summer (in which case you wouldn’t have enough power during the winter). 

Technology coupled with strategic pricing can help address the challenges of discontinuity. For example, “smart homes” could be outfitted to use electricity to charge electric vehicles, heat water, and perform other tasks during off-peak hours, such as late at night. Additionally, Gates notes that utility companies could start charging more for electricity during peak hours to create an incentive for people to restructure their energy use based on availability. 

Nuclear Energy

While Gates advocates pursuing and improving renewable energy sources such as solar power, he notes that our best chance of achieving non-carbon electricity generation is to combine the above options with nuclear power. This would provide many benefits:

  • Reliable and consistent electricity generation: Nuclear doesn’t have the discontinuity problems solar has.
  • Non-carbon fuel source: Nuclear reactors run on uranium, a non-carbon and relatively abundant fuel source.
  • Less material-intensive to build: Nuclear reactors are the second-most materials-efficient type of power plant we can build, bested only marginally by natural gas. Therefore, making the reactor itself emits less carbon dioxide than other energy sources.   

Gates recognizes public hesitancy to pursue large-scale nuclear power due to the dangers of radioactive waste, the potential for a nuclear reactor meltdown, and uranium’s role in producing weapons of mass destruction. However, he notes that the idea that nuclear is an unsafe option is flawed. Nuclear power has resulted in fewer deaths per unit of energy produced than coal, oil, biomass, or gas. Additionally, Gates notes that new technology promises to make nuclear meltdowns a near impossibility. Therefore, he explains that reducing the threat of global warming will likely necessitate a more widespread acceptance of nuclear power. 

Negative Effects of Technology

Now that we’ve discussed the positive effects of technology, what about the negatives? Unsurprisingly, new technological innovations aren’t always good and can actually cause harm to our bodies and mindsets. For one, the addictive design of technology makes even simple tasks harder to finish, and children’s education is suffering from their love of television. 

Here are the negative effects of technology that you should look out for.

Technologies Use Addictive Designs

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport discusses one negative effect of technology: how the design of modern technology creates an addiction that resembles alcoholism and substance abuse. Although compulsively checking your Twitter feed may seem like a far cry from drug addiction, the two are more closely related than you think. In psychological terms, addiction means that you continue to do something that makes you feel good or provides some other reward, despite the negative consequences. In recent years, psychology experts have recognized that behavioral addictions—like gambling and internet addictions—can strongly resemble addictions to substances like drugs and alcohol. 

In 2013, Adam Alter—a marketing professor with a Ph.D. in social psychology—discovered firsthand the addictive, negative effects of technology. Alter was boarding a cross-country flight, and he intended to spend the time catching up on sleep and work. Instead, he spent the entire six hours playing a game on his cell phone. Realizing what he’d done, Alter decided to investigate the psychological reasons that technology is addictive. 

As Alter researched the topic, he discovered that digital tools are specifically designed to promote addiction to support the attention economy. Of the various features that encourage technology addiction—which Alter discusses in his 2017 book, Irresistible—we’ll explore two: intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval. 

Feature #1: Intermittent Positive Reinforcement

Principle: When you get unpredictable rewards for your behavior, you’re more driven to continue that behavior than if the rewards were consistent. 

Explanation: Your brain releases the craving-inducing chemical dopamine whenever you get a reward. When rewards are intermittent instead of reliable, your brain actually releases a larger amount of dopamine. For example, if you’re playing the slot machine, you pull the lever consistently, but you only win occasionally. Something about that unpredictability makes it more exciting—you keep pulling the lever not in spite of the unpredictability, but because of it.  

Technology application: On social media, the “Like” button is one form of intermittent reward. When you post a photo on Facebook, you may get a swarm of likes and comments, or you may get none. That uncertainty creates an urge for you to compulsively check your notifications, anxiously hoping to see more likes. 

Technology companies also sprinkle rewards throughout their apps and websites, giving users sporadic hits of dopamine to keep them engaged longer. Think of a time when you visited a website for a specific purpose, and 30 minutes later you realize that you’d followed links and headlines down a rabbit hole of unrelated content—many of the articles and videos were uninteresting, but along the way, you encountered a few that really engaged you. Those few interesting articles were rewards in your journey of distraction. 

It’s clear that these features were deliberately designed to keep users’ attention because early versions of apps and websites didn’t have these elements—they were added only after tech companies adopted their attention economy business models. Additionally, these features add no real value: Most Facebook users say that the benefit of the platform is to stay up-to-date with friends and family, and that would still be possible if Facebook disabled likes and comments.

Feature #2: The Drive for Social Approval 

Principle: Humans are wired to seek social approval.

Explanation: In ancient times, people’s survival literally depended on being in good standing with fellow members of their tribes. Modern humans’ brains still have the drive to seek and reciprocate social approval. 

Technology application: On social media, likes and comments convey social approval. Your ancient social urges push you to compulsively check your notifications to find out whether your peers have validated you with the thumbs-up button—and, when you don’t get that feedback, you feel rejected and distressed by the lack of approval. That distress intensifies the urge to check your notifications in hopes of getting a like or a comment, creating a vicious cycle and a never-ending negative effect of technology.

This is the reason that many teenagers get caught up in a stream of back-and-forth messages with their friends on Snapchat because it feels like an affirmation of their strong relationship. Similarly, this drive creates the urge to respond to a text message as soon as you hear your phone ping—regardless of whether you’re driving or sitting in a work meeting. To the ancient parts of your brain, ignoring a text or breaking a Snapchat streak is like giving your friend the cold shoulder, which could have serious implications in the context of a small tribe. 

Human’s drive for social approval is also behind the photo-tagging option in social media apps like Facebook and Instagram. When you get a notification that someone tagged you in a photo, it feels like a message that the other person is thinking about you, which feeds your need for social approval and gives you an emotional boost. Social media companies have made it easier to trigger this response by using face-recognition technology and algorithms that identify other people in a photo and suggest that you tag them. When you post a photo of you and your friend, the app recognizes your friend’s face and prompts you to tag her with a single click. It takes minimal time and effort for the person who posts the photo, but it brings major psychological rewards for the person who gets tagged.

TITLE: Digital Minimalism
AUTHOR: Cal Newport
TIME: 30
READS: 155.7
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: digital-minimalism-summary-cal-newport

Email Communication Can Cause the Hyperactive Hive Mind Workflow

Cal Newport wrote another book highlighting a different negative effect of technology: the hyperactive hive mind workflow (HHMW). In A World Without Email, Newport argues that email, and the relentless requests and distractions it introduces, makes knowledge workers less productive and more unhappy. He discusses the problems created by what he calls a hyperactive hive mind workflow, in which all members of an organization are in constant, frantic, and often unnecessary communication. 

There are four drawbacks of the HHMW, both for companies and individuals.

Downside #1: Knowledge Workers Constantly Multitask and Are Thus Less Productive

The hyperactive hive mind drive to constantly check email means workers are almost always multitasking: performing their main work function while also responding to messages, asserts Newport. Such multitasking isn’t productive because it takes significant cognitive resources and energy to switch between tasks, which reduces performance on both. It also takes longer to complete two tasks at once than to complete two tasks in succession. This makes multitasking inefficient for the company, which isn’t getting the best output from workers. 

Downside #2: Knowledge Workers Do More Work Than Necessary

Because it’s so easy to email, colleagues are more likely to email a request to a knowledge worker than to figure out and handle the problem themselves, writes Newport. The result of this is that the recipient must spend time dealing with requests that could have been otherwise handled. 

Downside #3: Written Communication Can Be Ambiguous

Written communication fails to convey all the nonverbal information—tone, mode of speech, body language—that’s conveyed through in-person interactions, making it a relatively poor method of communication, claims Newport. This means you must write many emails to communicate what could be said verbally in moments. Additionally, you might worry about whether your meaning comes across appropriately in email or about a message that seems to convey anger (but doesn’t really). 

Downside #4: Workers Are Miserable

The final implication of the HHMW stems from the above implications: Reduced productivity, excess work, and impoverished communication make workers miserable, concludes Newport.

Education Is Now Expected to be Entertainment

The last negative effect of technology is that television overwhelms the school curriculum. 

Public education, too, has fallen under the influence and dictates of television, which is redefining knowledge and how to acquire it. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman discusses the negative effects technology and television has on children’s education and development.

The transition began in 1969 with the introduction of Sesame Street, which most children, parents, and educators immediately loved. Parents liked it because it made them feel good about letting kids watch TV. Teachers liked it because it made it easier to teach children to read.

But while it has helped to teach reading, television has undermined teaching and learning in the same way it’s undermined other aspects of public life.

Teachers thought television would teach children to love school. But television teaches children to love school only when it’s entertaining like Sesame Street. It sabotages the idea of traditional schooling in that:

  • It’s solitary rather than a social activity like school, where children learn social skills and interact with teachers.
  • It teaches children to respond to images rather than develop language skills.
  • It teaches that fun is the goal, rather than a means to an end.

Most importantly, television teaches children to love television—being entertained—more than learning.

Changing the Classroom for Television

Because television has rewritten educational philosophy by decreeing that teaching must be entertaining, children learn better when they’re being entertained. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing because traditional learning isn’t valued in the classroom anymore.

Television’s philosophy of education eliminates three tenets of traditional learning:

  • Prerequisites: On television, each program stands alone, with no prior knowledge required. Every viewer must be able to grasp it; no one can be excluded. Television thus eliminates sequence, continuity, and connection as integral to learning and thinking. Nothing has to be studied, recalled, or applied.
  • Challenges: Television aims to avoid confusing its audience because confused viewers switch to another channel. It’s easy to make ideas accessible when the goal is entertaining rather than learning.
  • Exposition: Instead of discourse using arguments, hypotheses, discussion, and counter-arguments, television presents stories with compelling images and music.

Education presented without prerequisites, challenges, and exposition is merely entertainment.

As a result of television’s redefinition of education, classrooms have lost their primacy, while teachers have remodeled classrooms and teaching methods after television. They’ve also incorporated multimedia and reduced exposition, reading, and writing.

Children are thus prepared to expect entertainment throughout their lives—from commerce, religion, news, and politics.

TITLE: Amusing Ourselves to Death
AUTHOR: Neil Postman
TIME: 22
READS: 146.7
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: amusing-ourselves-to-death-summary-neil-postman

Does Technology Help or Hurt?

Now that you’ve read through a few positive and negative effects of technology, do you think technology is harming or helping us? In some ways, it does both—without innovative minds coupled with the help of technology, we wouldn’t have renewable energy sources (or iPhones). On the other hand, productivity and children’s education are hindered by technology’s addictive designs. Truthfully, technology will not be going away anytime soon and will only become more advanced over time. For now, it’s best to take advantage of the positive aspects of technology and try to avoid the negative effects as best as possible.

What are your thoughts on modern technology? Leave them in the comments below!

The Positive and Negative Effects of Technology

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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