Has technology inadvertently taken us a step backwards?

What was the original intention of a personal computer? The things are now so imperative to our 21st century world, one might wonder how we ever got along without them. Bill Gates once said “The PC creates an incredible opportunity, an opportunity to take the curiosity and capabilities of the population as a whole that are so fantastic and make sure that those are not wasted”. That speech, at the Chicago Public Library in 1996, is published on the Microsoft website as a famous Gates prophecy. Was he right, or has the globalisation of information technologies simply shrouded our world in a storm of stress and anxiety?

Having spent a year as a run of the mill office drone, from a supposed ‘lost generation’ stuck in the rut of a global economic downturn, I wonder… has the rise of the personal computer inadvertently made the lives of the people themselves any better? The utopian visions from way back when pictured a world that utilised these technologies in order to give the average human more time to spend maintaining a life of freedom and enjoyment. The working week was to be gradually reduced as technology improved and the masses would have time in abundance to enlighten themselves in cultural and artistic revelry. However you spent your free time would be cherished more so and the world would be a happier place.

Not quite.

I may sound like your archetypal, miserable naysayer, but all I can see is good old fashioned history repeating itself. These new technologies have been gradually fed into the mouth of a drooling population by those who had yet again solely one thing on their minds. Money. Instead of the majority of people becoming slightly more prosperous in terms of time to spend doing the things they love, the ever so familiar top percentile has continued to flourish, with advancing technology generating a more efficient employee to serve the company. Through the help of computers and their gradual increase in capabilities, workforces have reduced and unemployment is at a decade high.

Now I’m no economist, but perhaps if the working week had been slowly shortened as technology became more efficient over time, then more people would have jobs, and more importantly, money. If this was the case, with the extra spare time available to them, the public would be spending more than usual and businesses would still be making additional profits. In turn this would pay for the larger outgoings of unavoidable increased hourly wages.

Bill Gates, in the same 1996 speech, said that ‘PC Empowerment’ is “about solving problems, letting you learn, letting you take something you believe in and advance your cause, letting you express your creativity, letting you have an impact on the world by reaching out and using it as a tool to change things”.

But who are these technologies changing things for? The standardisation of our modern world is beginning to show everywhere, and nowhere more prominently than in the world of computer technology. Even writing this very article I am using a piece of software created by one of the world’s largest companies who has become so big they can buy out almost any of their rivals. Even in our day to day activities like shopping we’re becoming more and more reliant on computer technology. Look at how supermarkets have implemented self-service checkouts, which allow them to employ less staff. Instead of providing a better service using these machines, they have just cut costs and now make the customers do the work that until five years ago they would assume to be done for them as part of the service.

It feels wrong to single out one man, but Bill Gates is to many people a standalone figure in a faceless industry. He has claimed that “Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven.  I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without the talking about the other”. And he’s right. The speed at which technology has advanced in its relative infancy is rapid, yet it is still clear to many that due to our world of profit-margins and year-on-year increased sales that genius inventors are forced to hold their creations back so that the bigwigs at the top table can squeeze as much profitability out of it. Then, two years later the same people who spent their hard earned cash on these ‘top of the range’ multimedia devices will be desperately trying to save for the ‘latest’ gadget.

Bletchley Park, home of the WWII code breakers

With Google snatching the headlines earlier this year with its purchase of Bletchley Park, the home of the British code breakers often referred to as the unsung heroes of World War II, I thought to myself,  has their legacy helped the world move away from a dictatorial world they helped fight against or have we been slowly brainwashed ourselves into an age where we have to conform to the latest software and are taught through the advertising power of global corporations that we must aspire to get hold of the latest techy gadget to fit in with everyone else.

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