What Role Does Technology Play In Your Life?

Technology has had a tremendous impact on our lives. It helps us to be more productive, to communicate with others, to produce goods faster and at lower cost, and to escape the hold of our planet’s gravity, among many other benefits. In just a few short centuries, life has drastically changed due to the technology we surround ourselves with.

But for all the advantages that our technology has, there are also many drawbacks.

Example #1: GPS

Let’s take Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). GPS keeps us from getting lost, and using it couldn’t be much simpler. Plug in an address, and follow the directions. Any decent GPS will get you to your destination, oftentimes routing around accidents, road construction, or other obstacles. We spend less time getting directions, fewer hassles trying to read maps, and best of all less time being lost!

However, as it turns out, there is an advantage to getting lost. It may be less efficient in the short term, but it helps us to actually learn our local geography. Studies have shown that people who rely on a GPS for navigation do not retain as much knowledge of the route and local landmarks as those who navigate the old-fashioned way. And the difference is not just a superficial one, as the areas of our brain that are used for navigation can be significantly underdeveloped by constant GPS use.

Example #2: Plastic

Or what about plastic? Plastic was introduced just a little more than a hundred years ago, but now it is totally ubiquitous. We wrap our food with it, we carry goods in bags made from it, and everything from toys to life-saving medical devices use or are mostly made from plastic. The reason it is so useful is because it is inexpensive to make, it is lightweight, and it can easily be molded into whatever shape we want.

What it doesn’t do, however, is break down into constituent elements. This means that the plastic that was used to wrap your head of cauliflower at the grocery store will be in the world for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Every plastic water bottle, every computer or music CD, every plastic toothbrush we throw out will sit in a landfill, intact, for much longer than our lifespans. Or worse yet, make its way to a stream or a river, and eventually to the ocean. There are large islands of plastic waste floating in our oceans, where it is sometimes consumed by sea life while still not breaking down.

Example #3: The smartphone

One last example: the smartphone. Introduced just over a decade ago, they have quickly been adopted throughout society and are now considered indispensable. Smartphone owners use them for just about every aspect of modern life: work, recreation, exercise, entertainment, and communication.

However, it is not at all clear what the long-term impact of the smartphone will be. Our attention is fractured, our focus on reality is weakened, we are easier to manipulate, and we often feel less happy or content despite having and doing more. We don’t really have any idea what smartphone mean to young child development.

The common thread is that technology is a tremendous boon. But it also has problems that often go ignored or denied.

What role does technology play in your life? What technologies could you live without, and which ones are central to what you do or who you are? Are you doing anything to address some of the negative aspects of technology in your everyday life?

Related questions: What is technology? Can technology solve our problems? How have we changed? Are science and religion compatible?

What Is Unknowable?

Knowledge is ever increasing, and often it seems to increase by leaps and bounds. We know more today than we have ever known, and we add to that store of information every day.

The universe, our own genetics, manipulation of materials, the building blocks of matter — all are areas where we are learning more all the time. Sometimes it seems that we will be able to keep on learning and growing what we know indefinitely.

But even if we continue to accumulate knowledge, some things may be beyond our grasp.

It may be that some problems are just too large. For example, the number of ways an ordinary deck of player cards can be arranged is greater than the number of atoms on the earth. Writing them all out can’t be done.

However, some things just might be impossible to know. What is it like to live in five-dimensional space?

What is unknowable? How might we classify unknowable things? Which Intellectual Roundtable questions have unknowable answers?

Related questions: How do we know what we don’t know? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? Why are we fascinated with the unknown? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned?

Are Science And Religion Compatible?

In today’s society, science and religion are often framed as being at odds with each other. It is often assumed that religion, which relies on faith in a higher power, and science, which advances through proven, verifiable steps, are fundamentally different and cannot be reconciled.

And yet, some of the most acclaimed and successful scientists have been deeply religious people. For example, Isaac Newton, who made great strides in mechanics, mathematics, and optics, also wrote religious tracts interpreting Bible passages.

On the other hand, religion has sometimes stood in the way of scientific progress. Perhaps the most famous instance involves Galileo, who was placed under house arrest by the Pope for declaring that the earth travels around the sun and not the reverse.

Returning to today, scientists sometimes feel under attack from some political or religious groups. 2017’s March for Science, centered in Washington, D.C. but with protests around the U.S. and the world, was in response to these attacks. Issues like climate change are controversial and generate polarized views.

It can’t be argued that science has been beneficial to our society. Many of the advances that are available in our modern world, from improved medical procedures to smart phones and the Internet, came about because of applications of science. Religious and non-religious people alike share in the benefits of those advances.

Religion, also, has benefits to society. Churches provide a place and a reason to come together to foster a sense of community and establish shared values. Many religious organizations contribute to or run charities, to help those in need.

Efforts have been made to reconcile the two systems of beliefs. Some people suggest that science and religion operate on different planes, with science a useful tool in understanding the physical world, and religion dealing with the spiritual side of life. It may be that the two are not just compatible, but in fact are dependent on each other. The excesses of each could be curbed by the other.

So which is it? Are science and religion inherently in conflict with each other, or can a way be found for the two to exist side-by-side? Are science and religion compatible?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? When is doubt helpful? How can we encourage debate? What makes a community?