An amazing perspective on technology and life today

Clay Travis is a sportwriter/columnist. When I was on twitter I followed him. It was certainly entertaining. I do get his mailbag emails, and happened to catch this incredible post on technology. Please take the time to read it, and consider the effect that social media is having on your kids.

Eddy writes:

“Longtime fan of the mailbag. I know you’re a thinker and I like your thoughts on big abstract issues. Here’s the question(s)

Have we reached peak technology, or at least plateued for a while, to make our lives better?

I’m talking better not easier. Better is a measurable improvement in quality of life. Vaccines make life better. Moving sidewalks make life easier. An example, when cameras were invented they made life better. You could capture a moment and have it frozen in a picture. Instagram makes it easier. It’s easier to access and take a picture.

When the phone was invented it made life better. You could connect instantly and hear  someone’s voice. The first cell phones made life better you could connect instantly to anyone who had one. Then the iPhones came and I’d argue the jump is smaller with each new one. My life is no better from iPhone 4 to the 8 I have now. (I think I have the 8) The phone is easier but not necessarily making my life better.

Does social media/technology make people’s lives better or easier? I tend to think its not making life easier but not better. I think we’ve may have reached the peak, and now it’s for some moderation in things tech related. The world is in the brink of chaos despite all the incredible good things happening. Is it time we start thinking of tech like alcohol or pizza? Be careful how much you consume, a little makes life better, too much makes life miserable.”

This is such a fascinating question.

It seems to me that technology in general has reached its apex when it comes to making people’s live truly better.

I’m not sure I buy into your better vs. easier dynamic, but think of it this way, I have almost lived for two generations. If I went back in time now to 1979 — the year that I was born — the only real major technological innovation that we have now in America that didn’t exist then was the Internet.

In other words, we drove on Interstates in 1979, food was safe, cheap and easy to consume, air travel was relatively commonplace, immunizations for children protected all of us from most awful diseases that could kill us when we were young, cameras and videocameras existed as did microwaves and cable television — even if it was in its infancy.

If I suddenly went back in time to the year that I was born, the biggest change would be the lack of the Internet — and the fact that we didn’t have mini-computers in our hands capable of telling us everything.

But was our life back then really totally different and are we better off now?

To me, if you’re defining better to mean — extending the scope and longevity of the average American’s life — the answer is: not really.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet — it’s given me this job and it’s given you the ability to read this article on your phone while you’re standing in line to buy lunch — but if you’d been back in 1979 would it really have been that awful to just stand in line and wait for your sandwich while you read a physical newspaper or, more likely, talked to someone while you waited in line?

I think about this quite a bit because people of my age — I’ll turn forty next month — grew up with an all-encompassing Internet once most of us were already close to adulthood.

But we weren’t immersed in it from the cradle like kids today are.

When I came home from school unless someone called me on the phone I was pretty much totally alone with my family at my house. I had acres and acres of time to fill where I could develop my own personality distinct from being surrounded by my friends all the time or worrying about what the latest thing someone had said on Snapchat was.

Do kids today have that opportunity today with technology?

I don’t think they do. And the results — suicide, depression, anxiety and the like — suggest that our embrace of perpetual technology isn’t leading kids to be happier, it’s making them much more depressed and suicidal.

To me there’s a difference between something that entertains us and something that makes our lives fundamentally better. The Internet, really, is just a different way to entertain us. But, and this is an even more interesting question, what if that “entertainment” has a huge downside which results in many of the things that have made America great — our democracy, robust capitalism, respect for those with different opinions and world views — being challenged, destroyed or disrupted?

I mean, just think about something like vaccinations. No one but true wingnuts challenged the idea of vaccinating their kids in a pre-social media era. Now we’re in an era when measurable and unquestionable scientific advancements — vaccinations unquestionably make the world safer and better for children, both yours and mine — can actually be rejected because disinformation spreads so much easier. That is, our technological advancements actually allow us be less informed — or even worse, misinformed — about a subject that directly influences the health of our children, which is arguably the issue parents should care about the most in this country.

Now think about what you would tell yourself about the future if you went back in time to when you were a kid.

It would go something like this when you got to trying to explain the cell phone and the Internet, “Pretty much everyone in the entire country will have tiny pocket computers in their hands by 2019 and we’ll spend at least five hours a day on them, often much more. That pocket computer will have access to every movie, TV show, sporting event, or song ever made in the history of American life. We can get access to all of it instantaneously with very limited cost.”

Your kid self would be like, “No way! That’s awesome! I can watch GI Joe and A-Team all day long?! The future is going to be awesome!”

And then you’d continue.

“But somehow, despite having access to all of this in the palm of our hands, studies will show that we aren’t becoming happier in the country.”

Why not your kid self might ask? How could anyone not be happy watching G.I. Joe and A-Team all day long?

“Because there will be this thing called social media that most people will use to interact with each other and the overwhelming majority of the time people will spend on social media will be about arguing with each other and demanding that people be fired from their jobs for petty slights and distortions of cultural mores. Oh and everyone will turn into angry tribes of people and all that will matter is your feelings and most people won’t care about facts. Ultimately people who tell jokes will lose their jobs and you don’t even want me to start on what’s going to happen with Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson.”

It’s really pretty remarkable to think about this conversation.

Your kid-self would understand the concept of the entertainment options, but social media would be tough to explain. We’re going to create, essentially, an entirely new world in the Internet where people don’t have to be themselves and then they sit around and argue with people who are themselves all day long.

Regardless, I don’t think there’s any doubt that if you consider any forty year period in American life that 1979 to 2019 has been filled with more technological transformations than almost any before it, but it’s also been simultaneously filled with the least transformative changes to actually make our lives better.

Maybe that’s because we’ve already achieved most of where we can go in terms of making life objectively “better,” as you assert, but it is a fascinating question.

Have we essentially plateau’d from a technological perspective?

I mean, Amazon’s a great company, but it’s just a new, faster way to consume. Buying things in a store, whether online or in person, is still buying something.

(It’s important to note that the world, by the way, has become immeasurably better during these forty years, but most of that is because America’s betterment of life has reached the poor in other countries. In other words, most American kids were immunized in 1979, but most kids in poor countries weren’t.)