Future Technologies and Us

Crypto-Currency Roller Coaster
When I last spoke about Bitcoin back in January the price was sat in the $900 region. After something of a nose dive due in part to the shutdown of major exchange MTGOX and the concern over potential regulation of crypto-currencies in China, the price has started to climb once again. Whether sustained growth and indeed mass adoption is viable for Bitcoin depends on whether the currency can outgrow attempts to regulate it, as well as how well it can perform against other crypto-currencies.

Photo by Jonathan Waller

All it takes is the right level of innovation, marketing and a subsequently wide-enough spread of adoption for another crypto-currency to come along and become the online transaction currency. In fact such a successor may have already been released. With a shorter transaction time and strong development support Litecoin is often touted as the silver to Bitcoins gold. However this reputation may be under threat from other candidates such as the environmentally friendly NxtCoin and anonymity-centered Darkcoin. Perhaps alluding to the growing interest in anonymity since last summers revelations about wide-spread government mass surveillance, Darkcoin has seen a huge surge in price rising more than 2000% in a month recently. In the short term if Bitcoin itself does not incorporate more anonymity into it’s code we may see the world of crypto-currencies split into two distinct camps, those built around anonymity and those that aren’t.

I don’t expect mass-adoption to occur in the next few years, in fact it may be decades before a regular usage of crypto-currencies occurs by even a fraction of the worlds population. However, if government tampering doesn’t kill the likes of Bitcoin first we may see the frankly outdated model of physical currency in the shape of coins and notes finally replaced.

Wearables or Status Symbols?
From being the first company to mass-produce the modern desktop operating system successfully to the iPhone and iPad, Apple under Steve Jobs had a history of introducing products that we didn’t even know we needed at the time. Since the passing of Steve Jobs the world of tech has watched the Cupertino company for signs of new innovation and rumours of a smartwatch have persisted, with signs that a launch later this year may be on the cards.

Concept by Philipp Zumtobel

It easy to remain skeptical on this side of launch on whether such a concept could be successful. Is there really an appetite for this in a world where smart phones seem to be ultimately expanding in terms of screen real-estate? Does a two inch squared screen-based device really make much sense, especially considering the lack of precision that would come with using a finger as a stylus on such a small device? How much email could you realistically bear to get through on a screen of this size? Looking at possible features the potential integration of the Siri personal assistant to such a device isn’t much of a feature as, for most people, Siri still remains in his/her infancy. A mapping feature may be useful for some, however this and with the rumoured integration of biometric sensors can surely only be considered novelty features at present.

With what will presumably be called the iWatch you have to wonder if the concept is about providing something that the consumer really requires, or if Apple are pandering to those looking for status symbol technology. It could be argued that there is very little market appetite for such a device, with the types of people who are drawn to watches likely to only want to buy traditional watches. But again, as mentioned, Apple have a history of introducing products that people didn’t even know we wanted, so who knows…

Turn On, Switch Off
I spoke a few weeks ago about the extent to which modern technology is being used to distract toddlers. With the increasing infiltration of smartphones and tablets into modern homes (and often schools) the generation born this decade are arguably the first to experience the age of the omnipresent interactive screen.

Photo by Alec Couros

In Archives of Disease in Childhood psychologist Dr Aric Sigman claims that there are a number of ways in which young people are negatively effected by such a reality. The obvious links between the sedentary lifestyle of those consumed by constantly interacting with screens are made, such as increased risk of heart disease, stoke and diabetes. However, due to the dopamine inducing nature of interacting with modern screen-based technology, the risk of dependancy is very real. We seem oblivious to this risk and as Dr Sigman puts it: “Perhaps because screen time is not a dangerous substance or a visibly risky activity, it has eluded the scrutiny that other health issues attract.”

Not only does this addiction to devices cause a threat to the natural social bonding experiences that children in early years need, but as the internet infiltrates daily life for children as they grow, this too can have a detrimental effect on social development and cause a sense of social isolation. In the early days of the world wide web a study by Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that an individuals sense of happiness and social inclusion declined over a year or two after going online for the first time, as a result of their interaction with the internet.

As children grow up and become engaged with social media in its future forms, it might be tempting to think that this is a medium that can be used to become more engaged with others. However research into social media by University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross suggests that those that are most engaged with Facebook, in particular, are more likely to feel isolated and less happy as a result. During the course of two weeks Kross and his colleagues sent text messages five times a day to eighty-two subjects asking them how they felt and how engaged with real-word social ties they were. The results found that those who used Facebook in-between texts felt less happy and that these subjects, over the two-week period, saw their satisfaction decline the most.

Ultimately it is our responsibility to keep children encouraged to participate with real world social activities. We should also exercise a certain amount of caution in how much usage children have of modern gadgets, using parental controls if necessary, as this is the guinea pig generation for what the effects of overindulgence might be.


One thought on “Future Technologies and Us

  1. I bought a few of these last summer yes they are a bit of a helter-skelter ride but I believe they will still be a good bet long term no matter what China or the Fed. think.

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