What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

The Social Downside to the Conveniences of Technology

May 27, 2014, 12:05 PM
Bt_technology_addiction_final

Much of life is, and has been, invisible for most of history. We’ve always understood that people know each other, but there has been no universal ledger showing who-knows-who, for how long, and so on. We’ve always known that people go to restaurants and bars, but we haven’t had a scrolling record of where each person has been and when. This is part of the magic, and the terror, of the digital era. Information and mobile technologies have allowed us to capture and measure so many of the ethereal elements of life.

There is something comforting about concretizing the invisible. It helps us gain a sense of control over the world that has, for all of human life, been an utterly mysterious and intimidating force. Today, with Facebook, the average college student has a better understanding of her social network than the top upper-crust socialites of past eras. This is astounding and empowering.

But, one of the great laws of life is that there are no free lunches - every benefit comes with a definite cost. As I’ve written about in the past, I believe that the purpose of technology is to reduce uncertainty. The advent of farming allowed us to more reliably feed our families and our tribes - it reduced the uncertainty of eating. However, as UCLA Professor Jared Diamond notes, “...recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.”

Automotive technologies improved our ability to successfully complete mid to long length trips. Though, they also encouraged the rise of suburbs and have contributed to environmental change. Similarly, digital and mobile technologies are coming with their own costs. We can clearly see some of them. Others, we will learn about over time. However, I think that the main cost of the mobile era has been an overall erosion of our ability to cope with uncertainty and a lack of control in our social and communal lives.

Instead of walking down to the store to see if it’s open, we check business hours on Yelp. This decreases the amount of foot traffic, and thus random communal interaction, occurring in our day to day lives.

Instead of talking to strangers at the bar while we’re waiting for our friends, we spend our time in text conversations - letting our friends know where we’re sitting, what we’re up to, and so on.

Instead of stopping by a friend’s house to see if they’re home, and able to get together, we call them up (or shoot them a Facebook Message). Though, in this process, we miss out on talking, and connecting with, their neighbors.

In short, mobile communication technologies allow us to live life as a series of straight lines. We go straight from our house to our friend. We go straight from work to the restaurant- which has our food pre-made and ready to pick up. This may all be in the spirit of efficiency. But, in the name of productivity and greater self reliance, we may lose one of our most fundamental attributes - our communal spirit.

Image credit: Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, May 31 2014

Tech Less

The weather is warm. It's time to get outside and do some hiking, commune with nature. But even if you were on the beach or in the forest, would you still be looking at your phone? What's the hone... Read More…

 

The Social Downside to the ...

Newsletter: Share: