Have we all become far too reliant on technology?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I think the simple and short answer to this is a simple yes.

Although modern technology brings many benefits, we may also be depending on it far too much.

The Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) has issued a warning that people are at risk of losing their basic map-reading skills and knowledge of how to use a compass and that because of a growing dependence on smartphones and satnav devices.

Roger McKinlay, President of the Royal Institute of Navigation, warns that society is being “sedated by software”, and wants schools to teach basic navigation skills to children:

“It is concerning”, he said, “that children are no longer routinely learning at home or school how to do anything more than press “search” buttons on a device to get anywhere.

“Many cannot read a landscape, an ordnance survey map, or find their way to a destination with just a compass, let alone wonder at the amazing role astronomy plays in establishing a precise location.

“Instead, generations are now growing up utterly dependent on signals and software to find their way around.”

If we consider that a couple of years ago the British forces in Afghanistan could not leave their bases because the satellites for their satellite navigation systems did not work and thus those systems could not be used. Apparently map and compass use and skills no longer exist even in the military and that is definitely worrying.

One group that all of us would like to think would be well-versed in navigation are commercial airline pilots. But even they, it seems, can rely heavily on new technology to do their job. And the same goes for maritime traffic. Ships today no longer have two-way radio but rely on satellite communication in addition to satellite navigation. In my opinion it is a problem waiting to happen.

Only a short while ago “several dozen” American Airlines flights were severely disrupted all because of a buggy iPad app. The problem arose because of an update pushed out to the JeppView iPad app used by pilots with American

Airlines in place of the 16kg (35lb) worth of flight plans, and paper manuals which pilots typically carry.

Switching from a hefty physical kit bag to the iPad app's electronic version didn't just save weight for the pilots, it was also claimed to have had economic and environmental benefits.

As American Airlines proudly explained at the roll-out of the iPad app in 2013, the savings on fuel and paper were considerable: “Removing the kitbag from all of our planes saves a minimum of 400,000 gallons and $1.2 million of fuel annually based on current fuel prices.”

“Additionally, each of the more than 8,000 iPads we have deployed to date replaces more than 3,000 pages of paper previously carried by every active pilot and instructor. Altogether, 24 million pages of paper documents have been eliminated.”

A video released at the time also underlines the benefits of the iPad app to pilots. It all sounds wonderful, but then something went badly wrong.

According to media reports when the iPad app's software was updated with a new version of the runway map for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, it conflicted with an existing version of the map on some pilot's devices.

Without access to flight plans, pilots felt they were left with no option but to not take off, returning to their aircraft passengers to the gate until the problem could be resolved or alternative flights could be arranged.

All this, of course, amid growing concerns about the state of air traffic control network security and fears that hackers could exploit on board Wi-Fi.

The same airline has also, in the beginning of June 2015, had to ground all its aircraft due to a glitch in the computer systems. Apparently it was only affecting planes on the ground and not any that were in the air already. Thank the gods for that, one can but say. But, let's think the unthinkable and consider the implications of a computer failure inflight. Maybe it has happened already with a plane or two in the last couple of months; a plane or two that crashed and for which the pilot or the co-pilot got the blame. Just thinking aloud.

Nobody is saying that it is wrong to take advantage of modern technology to make our lives and work easier, but we must consider what we will do when we become too reliant on gadgets and computers to do the hard work for us, and how we will cope when they are not available to us. Crutches are all very well, but when they are taken away from us we all know that falling over is hard to avoid.

The way people have become to reply on satellite navigation systems and other things electronic and feel lost without them it definitely would appear that, as a society, we have become far too dependent on technology and losing our ability to think for ourselves.

There is also the fact that almost everything nowadays is computer controlled, and often internet enabled, and that, when services go down nothing works. This not only can be very frustrating, it can be dangerous. Add to that all the infrastructure such as power distribution and others that are run by computers which could be “killed” by electromagnetic pulse or by hackers, leaving us high and dry, literally dry as far as water distribution is concerned.

There is nothing wrong with technology, nothing whatsoever, but it is our over-reliance on it and the fact that almost nothing is going to work if and when there are problems with it that is the problem and also that we do not seem to be able to manage to do almost nothing when technology fails. Just try buying something with debit- or credit card, now that they are trying to make cash illegal, virtually, when the system has failed. And trying, even if one can still do so, getting cash out of the “whole in the wall”, the ATM, is also not an option. So what then?

© 2016