Mankind has always had a knack for finding the easy way around the most difficult tasks. Once we developed the technology needed to survive the brutal forces of nature in the Stone Age, mankind embarked on a journey of technological advancement in pursuit of a better life. Ironically, in our quest to automate and optimize our processes, we have become heavily reliant on technology, rendering many skills that were once considered fundamental and essential useless. Therefore, I believe that technology, while greatly improving our quality of life, has had an adverse impact on the skill levels of mankind.
The negative impact that technology has had on our interpersonal skills is perhaps the most pervasive and insidious one yet. Technological advancements in communication – more particularly the development of the smartphone – has revolutionised the way we interact. Texts and direct messages have now substituted face-to-face interaction, and emojis and stickers are at present the most convenient conveyors of our mood. With the younger generation of today growing up in a world like this, many of them are more comfortable with socializing online than in real life. Undeniably, this new form of communication has many perks: speed, immediacy, and the ability to avoid direct confrontation are just a few. However, this has led to many of them losing their ability to communicate effectively with others. They shy away from situations that require them to mingle, choosing to use social media to get to know others instead. They are better able to sustain a conversation online than offline, to read text cues than a change in tone, to interpret the blue tick than body language. This dependence has resulted in a situation where many use their smartphones even in the presence of others, to the detriment of their communication skills. Naturalistic research indicates that people who had conversations without the presence of a mobile phone felt that these conversations felt higher levels of ‘empathetic concern’, as opposed to those who conversed with the presence of a mobile phone. This suggests that the very act of using technology to cope with social realities and communication impedes us from fully developing our skills of empathy and interpersonal communication. The multi-faceted art of communication has been relegated to the mechanical act of typing and tapping – very sorry degeneration indeed.
Furthermore, technological advancements have witnessed the degradation of the skills people require for their jobs. Most jobs today are heavily reliant on information technology as it provides easier ways around otherwise labour intensive, manual jobs. Machines have replaced manual labour at the frontlines of production, and computer applications have created easier ways of accessing and handling data. This has thus seen a colossal upheaval in the way people work – they are now dependent on computer applications and software to do the work that previously required a high level of skill to do. Programs such as Excel organize, tabulate, and analyse data for the user, making the accountant’s job much easier. Artificial intelligence software, such as Watson, uses natural language processing to interpret chunks of unstructured data, allowing businessmen to derive meaning from the statistics that they have. In Singapore, Lex Quanta, a data analytics firm, has created an application to predict the division of assets in divorce cases, rendering the traditional skills which junior lawyers possess obsolete. Therefore, with the advancement of technology to the point that we are able to delegate half our workload to machines, the de-skilling of the workforce has occurred, negatively impacting the skills levels of many workers in various industries.
Additionally, our motor skills have also deteriorated greatly due to the advancements in technology. The widespread proliferation of smartphones and gaming consoles like Xboxes and Wiis has resulted in and more and more youngsters today preferring to stay indoors and indulging in those games instead of going outdoors and playing actual games. Additionally, video games have the added edge of being more easily accessible than engaging in sporting activities is, and hence, many youths spend much of their free time playing those games instead, growing better at them while leaving themselves completely unexposed to outdoor physical activity. Furthermore, the likelihood of a child getting exposed to video games than to sports at an earlier age is higher, for today’s cautious parents are more willing to have their children nestled within the confines of one’s home, transfixed by the dancing graphics on a screen, rather than being out kicking a ball around. Therefore, the advancements in technology have made it easier for youths of today to dedicate more time to their gaming skills rather than to their sporting abilities, leaving these motor skills relatively untouched and undeveloped, if not actively degenerating.
However, it must be noted that technology has had a positive impact on stimulating the minds of people at large, promoting critical thinking skills and creativity. With technological advancements, the average person in a developed country is now able to access an entire treasure trove of knowledge that has been collated online. He is now empowered to contribute solutions related to these areas of interest. Furthermore, the differing points of view and contrasting schools of thought that are readily available online allows one to broaden his or her perspectives, equipping one with the mental dexterity to think laterally, instead of just vertically. Technological advancements have also made an array of software applications and programs accessible to laymen, such as blogs, computer-aided design applications, and video and photo editing tools. These programs have allowed people to harness and display their creativity in a wide variety of ways – blogs have allowed people the liberty to write or make videos on any topic they like, computer-aided design programs have allowed people the ability to come up with design ideas for buildings and products, and video and photo editing software have allowed people to tap on their visual creativity to make their images more aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, with the smorgasbord of applications made available to all due to the technology of today, people are better able to think creatively and express themselves in such a way.
It can also be argued that technology has also improved our cognitive skills significantly. The advent of wiki pages, online learning platforms, as well as podcasts has equipped people today with the ability to learn about anything, anywhere, at any time. If one has a query about any topic, she can simply search it up online and find answers that would help her resolve their doubts. Learning is no longer confined to within the constraints of the classroom, and students today are urged to venture out of what is merely in the curriculum and do more independent research. Online sources are now acknowledged as legitimate references, underscoring their reliability and quality. Additionally, as there is so much information online, the act of thinking deeper is thus facilitated. People are more prone to deliberating on topics and asking more questions when they can find answers to their queries, and the Internet provides a ready bank of information to answer these queries.
All in all, it is no secret that technology has an impact on the skills of people today. While it is true that as mankind embraces the more efficient, more productive methods of doing things, it has facilitated the greater development of our creativity and intellect, the gains that we have made in that aspect have come at the cost of our soft skills. However, it is not too late to reverse this impact that technology has made on those skill sets of ours, but we have to first acknowledge the effects that it has had on us.