What can be said about the physical impact of the digital age in which we live? Its effects are so far reaching that there are very few areas of our lives, our homes and our workplaces which are not in some way affected. Let’s start with the good stuff, and there is plenty of it depending on ones point of view. Naturally we can’t mention everything but in broad terms we see things like instant communications, easy access to information, and interconnectedness on a scale that is unprecedented. Ease of online services such as banking, travel bookings, online shopping etc. far exceed anything we ever had in recent history.
Computers and the digital technology that powers and automates so many of the functions which we now take quite for granted—in fact virtually the entire infrastructure of our modern world, especially in western economies—is based upon recent cyber technologies. The potential for life-changing innovations continues to emerge at a dizzying pace and is undeniable. Automated cars are already on our roads. There is currently technology in development for a car plane as a viable mode of personal transport. This would be a computerized car cum drone. Safer, swifter and more comfortable than anything we now have to get us from A to B and all automated of course! There are many, many other positive developments due to technological breakthroughs from health and transportation to education and instant information. The list could go on and on.
The bad stuff: Physically the lives of those who spend a lot of time on personal computers or at gaming or who work from some form of web based technology are far more sedentary than would have ever been possible in the past. These technologies have also become part of institutional education from primary through to college and onward giving rise to all manner of health problems and psychological issues in our up and coming generations. While we appear to be more easily contactable more and more people are actually alone with their devices than not. Take the ever increasing instances of when family or friends are sitting together in a restaurant, or at home, ostensibly to share a meal together and yet all the while busily tapping out messages or fiddling with something on their smartphones and quite oblivious of one another.
We may be able to easily contact one another and be wired into a whole planetary network of information and instant news and yet our personal space is also routinely invaded 24/7 by mobile technologies along with their electromagnetic radiations. There are surveillance issues that are genuinely worrying despite the fact that we are told that we are watched for our own good. IDs are quickly moving towards using bio data that imprints our iris configurations and encodes our finger prints. One by one countries are beginning to phase out passports in favor of online bio data.
Here in India, of all places, I had my iris encoded along with finger prints in an ID process that is currently taking place all over the country. These days in India, even a sadhu living on the street, has an Aadhaar Card with all his bio-metric details encoded into it. Getting my own card sorted was a surreal experience. There I was sitting in this dusty office, the paint was peeling off the walls, the fans were outdated and whirring loudly above our heads. There was book work and papers all around the walls stacked in untidy piles from door to door. The electricity went out while I was there and we had to wait until the back up generator kicked in. The fellow taking my details was making dozens of spelling mistakes and there was a constant stream of village people coming and going. It was all thoroughly incongruous and more than a little disconcerting. What are the privacy issues at stake here? It would appear that privacy is a thing of the past and simply not possible in this new age of digitization.
On another tack, one question I often have in mind is, what if there is a massive solar flare? Few seem to even be aware of how vulnerable our technologies are to extra-planetary events which are taking place constantly and over which we have absolutely no control. These solar flares have incapacitated electrical grids in various countries during recent years and there is no reason why it won’t continue to happen. We are currently in a solar minimum cycle but even so, events of cataclysmic proportions are going on continuously on our sun to say nothing of other events taking place throughout our solar system and beyond.
It is not possible in a short article to give an exhaustive list of all the disadvantages, but we must mention one that is yet to be fully understood and very likely will become extremely controversial in the years to come. This is the long term effects of the low-level electromagnetic radiations which are constantly bombarding not only us, but every living thing within their radius. Can most of us go for a day without coming into contact with a mobile phone, a pc, a micro-wave or a cell phone tower? These towers are perched on the top of buildings, in the midst of the most densely populated areas of our cities and towns. We also see the infrastructure for these towers marching up hills sides in even very remote locations, although now most of the technology is being moved to satellites orbiting the planet.
What about Wi-Fi radiations that so many and by the day more and more people are bringing into their homes? We are exposed to these radiations in a different form also from household items that we barely blink at now such as hair dryers, T.Vs and even fluorescent lights. Some would say that this kind of talk arises from paranoia but the fact is that recent research is overwhelmingly proving that the electromagnetic radiations that are emitted from the electronic devices that we use every day, to say nothing of the cell phone towers and all the other transmitters that exist within our proximity, have long term and insidiously detrimental health effects.
The physical implications of long-term exposure to electronic radiations are only just beginning to be uncovered, at least to the main stream public. Cell phone operators have long known of the dangers of their devices and their towers and they have managed to wrangle legislation with law makers that will protect them from future liability related to the use of their products. It has even been rumored that these same companies have endeavored to bring in a legislation that would make it compulsory to sign an agreement prior to purchasing; an agreement that would exclude them from the possibility of being dragged into a law suite at any time in the future! All of this is a loaded bomb waiting to explode, the clock is ticking, its just a matter of time!
The dilemma: How do we balance our increasing dependence with the long-term implications of using digital technology? Do we even have the option of trying to do something? The physical implications are alarming and the research and resulting data that is beginning to emerge is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg. What are the emotional, mental and spiritual implications? One can easily begin to see just how completely pervasive the effects of our digital age really are. The sooner we expand our awareness and understanding of these, the better.Johny Deff, Sri Lanka.
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