When you think of the future of technology, do you rejoice in the joyous advancements permeating our world or do you cringe at its dark decline?
Last year, the Victoria & Albert Museum ran a superb exhibition called The Future Starts Here: 100 Projects Shaping the World of Tomorrow. We went and it was fascinating to see where and how technology is being developed to revolutionise how we live, work and play.
From smart appliances to satellites, artificial intelligence to internet culture, the exhibition brought together more than 100 objects as a landscape of possibilities for the near future.
From advances in DNA research, a publicly crowdfunded pedestrian bridge in Rotterdam called Luchtsingel (meaning ‘air canal’) and the future of food, to electronic muscles for the elderly and the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste town, Masdar City in the UAE, the exhibition was a triumph.
The Big Picture
While the individual stories and exhibits paint a very bright future for the next generation of technological advancement, YouGov, the global public opinion, market research and data analytics company worked alongside the V&A to examine to what extent technology has become fundamental to our humanity.
In the summer of 2016, a non-binding resolution was released by the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning intentional disruption of online access by governments. It said that ‘the same rights people have offline must also be protected online’. The recommended provisions are as numerous as those relating the well-established human rights including the right to water and the right to food.
Following the resolution, a number of countries ‘have adopted laws that require the state to work to ensure that Internet access is broadly available or preventing the state from unreasonably restricting an individual’s access to information and the Internet’:
Costa Rica – At this time, access to [the internet] becomes a basic tool to facilitate the exercise of fundamental rights and democratic participation and citizen control, education, freedom of thought and expression, access to information and public services online, the right to communicate with government electronically and administrative transparency, among others. This includes the fundamental right of access to these technologies, in particular, the right of access to the Internet.
Estonia – The Internet, the government argues, is essential for life in the 21st century.
Finland – By July 2010, every person in Finland was to have access to a one-megabit per second broadband connection, and by 2015, access to a 100 Mbit/s connection.
France – In June 2009, France’s highest court declared access to the Internet to be a basic human right.
Greece – Article 5A of the Constitution of Greece states that all persons have a right to participate in the Information Society and that the state has an obligation to facilitate the production, exchange, diffusion, and access to electronically transmitted information.
Spain – Starting in 2011, Telefónica, the former state monopoly that holds the country’s ‘universal service’ contract guarantees to offer ‘reasonably’ priced broadband of at least one MB per second.
More countries have and will follow suit but it prompted a question from the V&A which asks: ‘what makes us human? ‘With the nations now declaring the internet to be a human right, it is now arguable that technology has become a fundamental and inextricable part of our humanity.’
To that end, YouGov put a simple question to the British public.
What Tech Could You Not Live Without?
The answers, aside from perhaps a surprise at number two, aren’t really all that surprising:
73% – The internet
66% – Glasses/contact lenses
58% – Computer
51% – Car
50% – Smartphone
49% – Television
31% – Watch
21% – Headphones
In an affirmation of the wisdom of the United Nations, the internet comes out top of the list and actually, 73% seems like quite a low number.
The poll was conducted over a cross section of age ranges and according to Matthew Smith, a lead data journalist with YouGov, ‘There is a significant relationship between a person’s age and their attachment to technology. It is not, however, simply that young people are more attached to technology than their elders. While younger people are more reliant on the internet, smartphones and headphones, older people are much more likely to say they couldn’t live without glasses, TV, cars or watches.’
What’s most interesting about the poll was that the segmentation analysis offered up six distinct attitudinal groups:
Excluded Pessimists (21% of the general population): They do not feel they have a good idea of who and what drives change in society.
Well-Informed Warriors (13% of the general population): They tend to be on top of what is going on in the world, with the vast majority saying they can keep up with the pace of change and have a good idea of who and what causes it.
Insulated Stragglers (17% of the general population): The oldest of the six groups (57% are aged 55+), the majority feel they have a good idea of who and what drives change in society but are most likely to say that they find it impossible to keep up with the pace of this change.
All-Round Optimists (22% of the general population): The most consistently positive of the six groups. They are the most likely to believe that technological progress is a force for good, that communities will become more connected in the near future and that changes over the next 20 years will have a positive impact on them personally.
Empowered Hopefuls (13% of the general population): The youngest of the six groups, with 42% being below the age of 35. They are the most optimistic about the future of society and are the most likely to feel that people such as themselves have the power to help shape the future. They are also the least distrustful of those entities that they believe have the most power to influence the future.
Tech Disciples (14% of the general population): Male-dominated (62%), they are the most likely to believe that there is a technological solution to all of humanity’s problems and they consider technological progress to be a force for good. They also have the strongest early adopter tendencies.
What group do you sit in and more pertinently, what tech could you not live without?
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