When it comes to talk of technology, the words ‘revolutionising’ and ‘transforming’ tend to dominate the lexicon of everything that is said and written on the subject. There is no denying that technology is changing and influencing every area of our lives, but the question that is often overlooked is how it will positively impact the whole of society?
The pace at which technology has advanced over the last decade cannot be understated. We have seen changes to working practices, communication and networking that would have seemed unimaginable at the turn of the new millennia. Take the former as a case in point.
The modern workforce
Thanks to rapid advancements in technology, over 1.5 million people now work from home – a rise of 35 per cent since 2005, with more workers (one in 12) here in the South West opting to work from home than anywhere else in the country. This is having a profound impact on the modern workforce, not to mention creating a wealth of opportunities for new parents looking to stay in or re-enter the workforce.
Indeed, speaking at a recent event in Cardiff, Sherry Coutu – named by WIRED as one of the most influential tech entrepreneurs in Europe – said that technology has been perhaps the greatest enabler for women. Citing Dame Stephanie Shirley as one of her biggest influencers, Coutu stated that technology has opened the door for women to successfully combine career and family – empowering them, as well as new fathers, to continue doing what they love without having to make a choice between one or the other.
From a societal perspective, the effect of this is quite simply huge. It’s not a coincidence that the rise in remote and home working thanks to advances in technology have seen a growth in the number of organisations offering flexible working solutions for their staff. Nor is it coincidental that this has also culminated in record-high employment in the UK and a strengthening of the economy itself. Employees are working from wherever they can get a connection on the smartphones, attending meetings virtually and even accessing collaborative opportunities on the go – the possibilities are endless.
The relationship builder
Technology has also changed forever the way we interact with each other. As recent as a few years ago, the circle of friends and acquaintances with whom you were in regular contact was relatively small. Today it is not unusual for an individual to have 500 friends on Facebook, thousands of followers on Twitter, and to be part of multiple Whatsapp groups.
Not only has it increased in quantity, however – the quality of conversation has in turn improved. New platforms have enabled us to better engage with each other and connect with the community, most notably with those who were previously isolated. Local communities have been reignited by technology, with platforms as simple as Facebook Marketplace now driving the local second-hand market. Technology allows individuals and organisations to react and respond far quicker than ever before, which in turn makes for more effective (and mutually beneficial) relationships both personally and professionally.
News that once took hours or perhaps days to filter across continents is now widely known in only a few minutes. Broadcasters, such as the BBC and CNN, were once the trusted gatekeepers of news. Their headlines determined what topics would become the talking points in homes and offices the next day.
Today, it is more likely that these broadcasters will be playing catch-up. The rise of citizen journalism has shaped the way stories are reported across the globe now, with even the biggest players using mobile phone footage captured by a member of the public at the time of the event. We now live in an on-demand society, and as a result, it could be argued that we’re better informed than ever before.
This comes with its risk though – we’ve all heard far too much about “fake news” in the past two years, but social media makes this a very real threat. Luckily, tech has a way of combating that too. With the use of AI, we can be presented with unbiased news reports that provide views from both sides of the fence. Technology brought with it the rise of fake news and is now tearing it down.
The helping hand
For members of society who face day-to-day challenges then technology can be a literal lifesaver. There is scarcely a health condition, whether physical or mental that does not have multiple online forums and chat groups where sufferers can go for friendship or advice on treatment and friendship from others with the same condition. Whether you’re looking to kick a habit, come to terms with a condition or simply trying to stop, relax and gather your thoughts, there is a platform for you.
Those with disabilities have found that technology offers them new opportunities; more and more disabilities are becoming invisible because of the accessibility that technologies are able to provide. Innovations are allowing deaf people to experience sound, enabling blind people to see and giving a voice to those who previously didn’t have one. Barriers are being removed and lives are being made easier in incredible ways.
The inclusion challenge
While growth in technology adoption is proving beneficial to society not everyone is yet benefiting equally. In the developing world, women are up to 50% less likely to have access to the Internet and even when they do have access social pressures and inadequate skills often keep them from using it to advance themselves. In the developed world, older people and those who didn’t grow up surrounded by technology frequently struggle to make sense of the online world.
To counter these difficulties local training workshops are being used as a part of the solution but the technology companies are also being proactive by providing additional ‘in-app’ assistance for older users. Once the age and sex of the user have been determined onboarding apps run automatically to highlight key features of the device in simple, everyday language.
To reach areas of the world with limited Internet connectivity a growing number of technology companies are making key aspects of their offering available offline. SMS notifications and similar technologies are used to bring vital information to those who would otherwise be excluded.
Social change through technology
Perhaps the greatest benefit technology offers is the ability to gather data from a wide variety of sources. Programs such as the “I paid a bribe” program run by the Janaagraha Trust in India aim to reduce and eventually eliminate corruption in public office.
By crowd sourcing reports of bribes they can advocate for positive changes in office workflow and reduce the number of bribes being paid. Similar programs now run in more than 30 other countries. The same data aggregation techniques have wide application in disaster situations and in encouraging greater accountability from those in power.
Technology is driving positive change in society. It is raising standards and enhancing life for everyone.
You and your organisation have the opportunity to truly make a difference just by using technology in the right way. If you’re looking for help in taking the next step, get in contact with us.