What Skills Have You Lost Due To Technology?

As technology advances, the skills we develop to survive go through changes.

For example, when the horse was the primary means of transportation, many more people knew how to ride. Once the horse was replaced by the automobile, horse riding became less important.

In the present day, the speed at which technology advances is enough to make your head spin. Any single person can travel almost anywhere in the world, from the deepest ocean depths to the highest mountaintops.

In addition, we have labor saving devices all throughout our homes, from dishwashers to vacuum cleaners to electric toothbrushes. Our food stays fresher longer due to refrigerators,  we can quickly warm meals in the microwave, and there are even cat litter boxes that will clean themselves.

But by far, the biggest change to our personal lives comes from the digital world, from the personal computer to the Internet to the smartphone. Many tasks that would take us hours or even days can be accomplished within seconds using the smartphone with a connection to the Internet.

So What?

All of these devices save time and make us more efficient. (Or do they?) There can be a downside, however. We learn certain skills that serve us well throughout our lives. But some of these skills are atrophied when we don’t use them, or they may not even be developed in the first place.

For some, it hardly matters. If we, collectively, forget how to wash dishes by hand, does that make much of an impact? Probably not.

Other cases are less clear. As emails and text messages replace written communication, do we lose the ability to compose letters? Does that impact our ability to communicate effectively?

There are many examples of things we used to do regularly that have now been replaced by the tools we have developed. Which skills have you lost due to technology?

Related questions: How have we changed? Are we too busy? What material possession means the most to you? What role does technology play in your life?

What Do We Do About Plastic?

We have a plastic problem. Every day, nearly a million tons of plastic waste are produced. It has been found at the bottom of ocean trenches. The beaches of island nations are covered with bottles washing up from the tides. Animals in the wild have pieces of plastic in their intestinal tract.

The Scope of the Problem

The problem is that plastic is cheap to produce, and it can be molded in numerous helpful shapes. It seems like just about everything contains some plastic. We use plastic wrap to indicate something is new and pristine. We use bottles for water and other beverages. Sometimes it’s even woven into our clothes!

The cost, however, only includes the cost of production and not of disposal. The company that bottles water doesn’t have to worry about what happens after the water is consumed. That cost, whether the bottle is thrown on the ground, placed in a trash receptacle, or enters the recycling stream, is born by the community.

Unfortunately, in each of those cases the eventual outcome is not good.

In nature, a plastic bottle won’t decay for hundreds of years. If plants don’t try to grow around it, it might end up washed into the ocean, carried by currents, and end up on a beach somewhere, poisoning fish or wildlife, or simply on the ocean floor.

Likewise, a plastic bottle thrown in a trash can most likely ends up in a landfill. There it will sit for hundreds of years.

But what about recycling? Only 9% of plastic is recycled, but at least that doesn’t end up in the waste stream and can be repurposed or reused. Most recycled plastic, however, is sent to poor countries by boat. These countries don’t have the ability or resources to recycle the huge amount of waste that is being produced, and so often it merely ends up in a landfill in another country after being shipped around the world. Recycling may make us feel good, but it does little to actually address the problem.

What can be done?

Any potential solution needs to address two different areas.

The first is to reduce the amount of new plastic that is being produced. For example, legislators in Canada are proposing banning single-use plastic products. It is not clear how quickly proposals like this can be implemented, or how widely they will be accepted. Consumers don’t seem to be aware of, or don’t care about, this issue in great numbers. Without public sentiment driving corporate behavior, it is not clear if it will happen at all.

Second, we also need to do something with all the plastic products that already exist. Some companies, like 4Ocean, are making an effort to remove plastic waste from our waterways. They fund their operation by selling bracelets made from recovered items. Fundamentally, however, companies like this merely move plastic from one place to another.

Some plastic-eating bacteria have already been found in nature, but decomposition is still a slow process. Evolution will eventually work to fill this ecological niche, but it will take a long time for this to happen.

How do you use plastic in your daily life? How difficult would it be to remove plastic items from your household? Can you imagine this happening? Lastly, how could we get to that point?

What do we do about plastic?

Related questions: What role does technology play in your life? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? How are you making the world a better place? What do you do that you shouldn’t?

 

Are We Living In A Simulation?

The idea that our world is just a computer simulation was popularized by the movie The Matrix. But the idea itself is much older than that.

Over 2000 years ago, Plato suggested that we are just people chained in a cave, and what we think of as reality are just shadows on the wall. That’s fairly close to the idea of a reality that is generated by a giant computer.

While our experiences certainly seem real to us, it’s not too hard to imagine a different scenario. Computer graphics, like in common video games, are getting more and more realistic. Virtual Reality headsets are commonplace. And while the graphics they use are still somewhat rudimentary, users often comment about how they quickly come to accept the false world.

In addition, games like The Sims, which place a computer-generated person or family in the hands of a video-game player, have been around for decades. Artificial Intelligence is getting better and more capable every day. We carry them around with us wherever we go on our smart phones.

Putting all that information together, and in just a few years we can imagine a completely immersive experience where you plug in to the internet and lose yourself as another, computer-generated character in a completely modeled world.

What is real?

How can we be sure that’s hasn’t already happened? Perhaps we are laying on a slab somewhere, with what we think of as the world around us being beamed into our brains. Moreover, maybe we don’t even have a body in the “real” world. Everything we see, everything we experience, could all be algorithms in a complicated computer simulation. Each one of us might be a Sims character.

In some ways, that would explain the universe as we understand it. There are certain physical laws, like the speed of light being  the fastest speed possible. Laws like these could just be the parameters of our simulation.

That, however, just opens up more questions. If true, what about the world that houses the computer where our simulation exists? How did it come about? What are the physical laws there?

What difference does it make?

If we entertain this idea of living in a computer simulation, does it make any difference to our everyday life? If the emotions that I think I experience turn out to just be some lines of code in a complicated computer program, does that invalidate them in any way? Does it ultimately remove the meaning from my decisions and actions, or does it add meaning? If I feel pain, or experience joy, or have my heart broken, does it matter if it originates from neurons firing in my brain or the spinning of a hard drive?

It’s difficult to imagine any way of actually testing this hypothesis. We may never know if our universe started with a Big Bang or with a coder writing a program to test out some advanced scenario. The idea, though, is a fascinating one. Are we living in a simulation?

Related questions: What is unknowable? How much of our thoughts are our own? What is time? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?