When I first traveled to Ethiopia a little over six years ago I rarely saw a cell phone. If I did, it was a basic cell phone with no internet access or data plan. The internet in the hotel was dial-up and only worked occasionally. I can remember sending an email to family and friends who were waiting to hear news from us but later found out the email I had sent never actually went through. It was slow and unreliable.
Each time I return to the Ethiopia, the access to phone and internet options changes. Wifi is now readily available in hotels and restaurants. More cell towers have been constructed throughout the country, leaving room for people living in deep rural villages to now have cell phones and access to an endless amount of information right at their fingertips. iphones and other smartphones are everywhere. I often joke in saying cell phone coverage is better in Kembata-Tembaro, Ethiopia (an area of Ethiopia six hours south of the capital city, Addis Ababa) than in the town we live in NW Iowa. Almost everyone I know in Ethiopia now has a cell phone, even those who live in small grass huts (tukuls) in remote rural villages. And, if they don’t have a cell phone, they know someone who does. I can regularly email my friends in Ethiopia or “chat” with them on iMessage or Facebook. The addition of smartphones and the expansion of internet access in developing countries has the potential to change the quickly expanding country similar to many other countries like Ethiopia. Healthcare education, disease control and online educational tools are just a few of the ways this could change the country.
It seems like the expansion of technology could be bringing us together.
But, on the other hand, sit in a busy restaurant in the United States and watch a table of dinner guests wait for their meal. In addition to sipping on their soda or eating their appetizer, you will likely see some around the table pull out their smartphone to flip through their latest Twitter feed or scroll through their Facebook timeline. We don’t talk to one another. Instead, we text, chat, or message.
We live an age when we can have the information we want and need almost immediately. Want to know what the weather is going to be like? There’s a weather app for that. Want to find out who won a certain baseball game by a certain team and a specific day? Do a Google search. Want to find an address to a restaurant? Just ask “Siri” and she’ll tell you.
Sometimes it seems like the use of technology could be pushing our relationships with one another further apart.
The editors of iAt have asked five technology experts their opinions on the use and expansion of technology in today’s society. Is the use of technology pushing us apart from one another and changing the way we relate with one another? Or, is the use of technology bringing people together for the common good?
We invite you return to iAt throughout this week as the writers for this week’s series wrestle over the question: “Is technology bringing us together or pushing us apart?”1