Saturday, May 25Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Technology – friend or foe?

It has been a busy few months, exams are still fresh in everyone’s minds and in the big scary world, outside the walls of Royal Holloway, an election has taken place. But when surrounded by all the big things, sometimes it’s easier to forget the little things, like that phone that’s probably in your pocket right now, or maybe on the table in front of you.

Now you might be wondering why I have suddenly switched to talking about phones; what’s that got to do with anything? Having a phone might not seem important when you’ve probably had one for a while and using it is just second nature. What neither you or I might not think about is how much the technology used to build your phone, and thus the phone itself, has advanced in the last few years.

An iPhone 6 is 32,600x faster in terms of processing power than the computers that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon in 1969, and, obviously, an iPhone is significantly smaller than any Apollo era computers. In the last 10 years, technology surrounding virtual reality, augmented reality, hologram tech and even robotic limbs and organs has gotten to the point where the line between fact and science fiction is becoming increasingly blurred. It might not come as a surprise that Stephen Hawking, when questioned about Artificial Intelligence (AI) said it could be “either the best, or the worst, thing to ever happen to humanity”. Of course, AI is a very specific example of developing technology, but his comment does raise an interesting point – when have we gone too far?

Maybe it’s my inner old man talking, or maybe binging the entirety of ‘Black Mirror’ on Netflix was a mistake, but I can’t help but wonder where exactly this is all taking us. You look around a room and you always see people with their heads down, buried in their phones. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – I do it too. But, phones, or any piece of technology, shouldn’t replace a little human connection now and again because sometimes we can forget just how powerful technology can be. In 2007, it was discovered that a new neurological condition called ‘Phantom Vibration Syndrome’ had come about, where people believed that their phone was vibrating in their pocket when it wasn’t. Clearly, simply putting your phone on vibrate can literally change your perception of reality.

Thus, technology should help enhance our lives, not control or ruin it. You’re probably scoffing at me right now, safe in the knowledge that I’m clearly a loon who’s afraid of change. However, in the words of Albert Einstein, ‘technological progress is like an axe in the hands of pathological criminal’. This might all seem pretty heavy, but in a world full of exams and elections, it’s worth remembering that little piece of tech in your pocket has the potential to change the world – for better or for worse.