San Francisco is a boom town. The city has had a history of attracting wealth seekers since the earliest years of the California gold rush, but right now it is thriving. Tech companies have bought huge properties in multi-million dollar real estate areas of the city, and thousands flock to the Bay Area to take part in the ongoing tech revolution. Walking around the city (or taking an Uber or Lyft or Sidecar or whatever new smartphone transportation app you have a coupon for), you get the sense that this enormous bubble may someday burst.
It’s hard to even conceive an end to the technology industry, especially because tech has taken such a stronghold over the majority of Americans’ lives. Many companies in Silicon Valley and beyond operate under the principle that the tools they are providing — communication, connection, accessibility to services, etc. — are beneficial to society. We’re improving ourselves through technology.
There is, however, a darker side to it all. Humans have become incredibly addicted to technology. Look around any city on any given day, and you’re bound to find heads buried in smart phones, laptops littering the tables of coffeeshops and people mumbling into their earbuds. A University of Maryland study found that the “clear majority” of 1,000 university students from 10 countries were unable to voluntarily avoid from using their smartphones for one day. Those who attempted the feat claimed they felt anxious, lonely and panicked, mimicking drug withdrawal symptoms.
There are theories — although the science is as of now inexact — that the brain — that the brains of smartphone users have become dependent on the external technology, making computers essential to human function. That may sound ridiculous, but think about how you felt the last time you left the house without your phone. Technology has drastically transformed the way humans interact within a matter of a couple decades. Whether intentional or not, addiction has been one of the main factors in tech’s success.
If tech companies are making such massive profits of such an addicting product, should they be applauded for their efforts? Or should they be treated like cigarette companies, unabashed profiteers gaining success from consumer’s uncontrollable addictions? The reality, as it usually is, is somewhere in the middle. Technology is highly addictive, yet it makes our lives better, helps us connect, makes things easier. It’s obvious that humans have been evolving to this point of mass communication, but it’s overwhelming that it’s happening so fast. Hopefully the tech bubble does not burst, but hopefully there is more active discussion about the role emerging technologies are playing in our daily lives.