The Subtle Ways Technology Shapes Our Lives

Some schools in the United Kingdom have announced that they’re removing analog clocks because students are unable to read them:

Some U.K. schools are ditching analog clocks from test rooms because a generation of kids raised on digital clocks can’t read them and are getting stressed about time running out during tests, London’s Telegraph reports.

“The current generation aren’t as good at reading the traditional clock face as older generations,” Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the U.K.’s Association of School and College Leaders, told The Telegraph.

I, along with many other people, initially scoffed at this announcement. Teaching somebody how to read an analog clock takes a matter of minutes. On the other hand, as a few friends pointed out to me, the skill is almost entirely unnecessary today. Most of us carry a pocket computer that displays the current time. Those pocket computers usually display the time in the friendlier digital format. Since most people carry around a time telling device, public clocks are less important than they were. People who have a pocket computer that displays the time in a digital format don’t need to know how to read an analog clock.

This is just another subtle, albeit major, way that technology is shaping our lives. Another example is cursive writing. I learned how to write in cursive around second or third grade and continue the practice today because it’s faster than writing block letters. However, cursive is indecipherable to many younger individuals. Why? Because the ability to write quickly is less important in a world where computers are prevalent. It’s rare for me to be in a situation where I have to write something. Usually I can type it out on a computer or tap it into my phone. The generation that came after mine never knew a world where computers weren’t prevalent and the current generation is growing up with touchscreen devices (a technology I once saw in my youth, although in a very rudimentary form, and thought it was the coolest thing ever) that fit in their pockets and can automatically transform their spoken words into typed text or transmit it directly.

When I was in school, pocket calculators were already prevalent, which caused us students to ask our math teachers why we had to memorize so many mathematical operations. Our teachers responded that we wouldn’t always have a calculator with us. I can’t say that they were wrong. At the time I rarely carried a calculator with me. Pocket space was at a premium and I couldn’t carry every with me. Fast forward to today. I always have a calculator with me because it’s an app on my phone. My teachers’ response to my question, although true back then, is no longer true.

Remember paper maps and compasses? I do because I used to have to use them to navigate in unfamiliar areas. If I was in an unfamiliar city and needed to get somewhere, I had to either get out of my car and ask somebody for direction (which may or may not result in receiving good directions) or pull out a paper map to determine my current location, the location of my destination, and the best route to get there. I then used a compass to keep myself going in the right direction. Now I type my destination into my phone and let it guide me to my destination. In addition to being faster because it already knows where everything is, it can also provide me a better route because it also knows the current traffic conditions. Navigating with a map and compass is another skill that is largely irrelevant in a world of ubiquitous smartphones and cellular coverage.

Many of the skills that I learned were important at one time but are of little importance today. When I sit down to think about it, it’s fascinating how technology has changed my world in so many subtle ways. My skills of reading an analog clock, cursive writing, performing math in my head, and navigating with a map and compass are pretty much irrelevant. I wonder what other skills that I learned will be made less relevant by technology in the coming years.

3 thoughts on “The Subtle Ways Technology Shapes Our Lives”

  1. Nice piece.

    I think about all those topics you mention and more occasionally, and end up at the big question:

    What if the power goes out? For, like, a loooooooooooong time?

    1. At times I think that if the power goes out, we’ll be in a world of hurt. Then I think of all the places that don’t enjoy consistent power but technology has still managed to penetrate. One example is the prevalence of cellular phones throughout much of Africa. Even though many of those locations lack consistent power, the people living there have managed to find workarounds.

      If the power went out for a very long time, it would be painful. But I’m not convinced that we wouldn’t find a way to work around the problem.

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