Technology is changing the way people think, communicate, and live, and is having a significant positive and negative impact on our society, culture, and values. On the one hand, technology has considerably raised the standard of living for many people by facilitating communication, enhancing access to information, and improving healthcare among many other domains. On the other hand, it has also brought about security and privacy issues, job losses and identity theft etc. In addition to that, technology has led to new societal problems such as technology addiction and cyberbullying.
We might say that technology is fast reshaping society and forming our individual and social identities as a result of its excessive engagement in our personal lives in the form of new avenues for self-expression and community building. However, questions have also been raised about how technology affects our culture, relationships, and how we see ourselves in particular and others in general. Expanding our medium of expression, such as through the use of social media, is one of the positive effects of technology on how our identities are shaped and this will be discussed in detail in the article.
The number of online engagement sites also known as social media websites and their users are growing every day. According to a recent study, there are 4.76 billion social media users worldwide that make up around 59% of the global population. Due to growing accessibility, there is no age, gender or education limitation when it comes to the use of the internet. Online platforms not only connect users to new information, but also to new and diverse communities around the world. This is beneficial since it helps people to transform themselves in a better way, discover who they are and shape their identity.
However, there is a negative side to this as well. One of the major drawbacks of technology is that while it might help form opinions about society, it can also lead individuals to be swayed by popular opinion, which causes people to lose sight of their unique identities. One such example is Instagram where people tend to share their best photos and happy memories creating an impression of living a great life with no worries, which may not be true depiction of their lives. Such false impressions not only creates deception for others but also distorts their own identities in the longer run.
Moving on from individual to collective identity, a nation can choose how it wants to be seen or portrayed by other countries by utilizing its digital resources for narrative building. For example, countries often use technology as ‘soft power’ to project themselves to attract tourists globally. For instance, Malaysia’s ‘Truly Asia’, Qatar ‘Qurated for You’, Nigeria’s ‘Heartbeat of Africa’, andVietnam’s ‘Timeless Charm’.
Online resources can be employed for both international and national audiences when we talk about politics. Political parties use such technology to frame their positive and opponent’s negative image to gain popularity. This trend is particularly widespread in South Asian countries like Pakistan. Look at today’s Twitter trending hashtags and you will find out. People have become so addicted to online platforms and have begun relying on them as true sources of information, that they do not bother verifying information. This is another drawback – technology makes you so dependent on itself that one becomes addicted. Addiction to technology leads to the extent that it starts to affect our relationships and also starts reducing human interactions.
The dependency on technology and digitalisation has grown massively in the last few years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online education, working from home, and growth in online businesses are a few examples. Technology companies began exploiting this by introduced Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered devices, since their main focus is making a profit. AI-enabled technology has made life easier and more complex at the same time. Whether it is through smartphones and watches, self-driven cars, chatbots, robots etc. people are becoming gradually isolated from one another.
With increased human reliance on technology in day-to-day life, one needs to see what cost we are paying for this comfort. The majority of individuals are either unaware of or unconcerned about data protection issues. How many read the information before selecting the icon labelled ‘Accept all cookies’? Most people simply click the ‘ok’ or ‘yes’ without understanding the potential repercussions, as they are unaware of what the majority of the information they encounter online actually implies. A common labourer with less education might not even be aware of the importance of identification and personal information shared online. Children, to whom we provide smartphones and tablets to temporarily stop their tantrums, are especially vulnerable.
There is now an international movement that regards biometric surveillance as inhumane. Even though it is currently a hot topic in several European Union nations that thumbprint and facial recognition software is a violation of privacy, yet there is still no legislation, regulation, or policy in place to protect individual identities.
Technology-related societal reforms are required, including rules governing online privacy and data protection, actions against hate speech and disinformation, restrictions on screen time and addiction, and laws against online fraud and money laundering. Civil society must play a proactive role in this to pressure governments and big IT firms to enforce and implement reforms. In addition, there is a need to foster a culture of technology use that emphasises the importance of taking precautions and which views data security as a major human rights concern. As individuals and societies, we need to start taking steps to make our online identities and future more secure.
Etfa Khurshid Mirza is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. She can be reached at email@example.com.