The last few decades have seen computer technology escalate at an unprecedented rate. Today’s society heavily relies on computers to function, and many advances in science and engineering owe themselves to the digital age.
Last year Dennis Burton, a professor of Immunology & Microbial Science, made the first concrete steps towards a HIV vaccine using computational modelling and imaging techniques. NASA sent a car-sized rover to Mars in 2012; it has been exploring, analysing and picturing the planet ever since. Astronomers in the US have recently used a computer simulation to depict 13 billion years of cosmic evolution – the first example of a virtual universe.
Smartphones have over a hundred thousand times more memory than the computers of 30 years ago and the proportion of the UK population walking around with these powerful pocket computers is expected to reach 75 percent in 2014. Most of us would feel lost without our phones even for just one day, but are we really becoming ‘zombified’, as satirical humour would suggest? With answers and amusement always at our fingertips, our minds and bodies can become lazy, as we choose to engage with devices rather than with those around us. Why travel to the Louvre and queue for hours to see the Mona Lisa? Google it and you’ll see it in seconds.
The world’s first website was created by Professor Tim Berners-Lee in the US, and went live on the 20th of December 1990. This means that, as a postgraduate student, I am officially older than the internet; a fact which will surely blow the minds of any children and grandchildren of the future. The internet is a portal to education, sightseeing, community, entertainment, and escapism. Within this web of knowledge, the answers to life’s important questions can be found – why are the numbers on a phone and the numbers on a calculator the opposite way round? Exactly how fast do hotcakes sell? And why are fun-sized chocolate bars so small? There is nothing fun about getting less chocolate.
Most technology is devised to make our lives easier and more efficient, but in some ways the opposite is true. Computers, smartphones and tablets are all perfect procrastination tools. Netflix automatically plays continuous episodes without pausing for breath, a superb selection of ‘birds with arms’ can be found on Google images, and the ‘100 most important cat pictures of all time’ is a must-see on Buzzfeed.
If technology has become such an essential part of our everyday lives, how do more vulnerable people cope? With the aid of technology we can be contacted anytime, anywhere. And yet, despite being more in contact today than ever before, people are showing greater susceptibility to stress, anxiety, addiction, depression, isolation and insomnia, all of which can be linked to heavy technology usage. The lack of privacy brought on by technology can also be distressing; we are constantly under surveillance. Online and phone traffic can be monitored and collated by intelligence agencies, which can lead to paranoia and exacerbate existing conditions such as schizophrenia.
The dangers and consequences of a developing digital world are very real and steps are already being taken to combat them. In 2009, a retreat for those suffering from online addictions was established in the USA. The programme offers a 45-day rehab treatment for the excessive and compulsive use of the internet, gaming, and texting.
Technology is ubiquitous in society, and has brought with it tremendous advances and benefits to modern life. However, it seems clear that it can also contribute to, and compound, mental illness. An average child born today in the UK will have spent a quarter of their life in front of a non-work-related screen by the time they are 80, exploring media which will bombard them with glorified celebrity lives and sensationalised horror stories. The resulting damage to social development, esteem, and general anxiety can be significant. As with most things in life, it seems technology is best in moderation.