Community Engagement
Is Technology Moving Us Forward or Holding Us Back?
Michael Norris
Michael Norris

We love technology. We live in a digital world. On our wrists or through our fingertips, most of us are connected to a device 24/7.  Technology is present in almost every aspect of daily life.  Growing numbers of people would rather communicate over social networks, email or text than to have a face to face conversation.

One startling finding is that our reliance on technology to communicate may actually create an increase in bullying, according to Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist who specializes in the physiology of the brain.  She believes we become distanced from our humanity and that of others when we live so much of our lives online and it becomes easier to let our less charitable instincts take over.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, we damage our creativity and critical thinking skills when we rely on the Web for information, accepting it uncritically.  Opinion and fact become interchangeable. What a wonderfully insidious paradigm we’ve created.

That said, the advantages technology provides are powerful; it can transform and improve quality of life.  Baroness Professor Greenfield and several Quality of Life Conference panelists discussed whether advanced technology is a sign of human progress or decline.  Michel Combes, the Chief Executive Officer of Alcatel-Lucent, provided insights into how broadband access affects economic and educational prosperity. From a healthcare perspective, Matthew Holt offered a view into advancements based on his exposure to technologies at Health 2.0’s conferences and other mediums. And Suneet Singh Tuli related how, after moving to Canada as a child, he observed how a lack of technology hindered his friends in India educationally. His company, DataWind, now seeks to make the Internet more affordable for the masses in India. By 2017, it is estimated that 3.0 billion people worldwide will be connected to the Internet.

It’s not about access to Facebook and YouTube. Research has found that a 10% increase in broadband penetration can increase a typical emerging country’s GDP by 1.4%.Sodexo-Always-Connected-infographic-v31

  • In turn, GDP increases boost countries’ Human Development Index (HDI) scores
  • A 1% increase in a nation’s HDI score can translate into educational success for 440,000 more children and 15 months longer life expectancy

These are pretty compelling quality of life reasons to expand broadband access. Here’s another – as implementation of broadband technologies expands, research shows a correlation to better public health.  For example, in nations with broad access to the Internet, traditional modes of delivering healthcare are being replaced by entirely new forms of communicating with doctors, new low-cost diagnostic technologies, and automated services. Access to broadband may change the health and well-being of entire communities.
Not surprisingly, a digital divide exists between prosperous nations and developing economies, as well as between older and younger people. The solution is straightforward and the benefits are well-documented. However, the change lies in bringing governments and the private-sector together to make broadband more affordable, more accessible and more usable by all demographics.

To read more on the discussion of technology check out the Quality of Life Conference Report.

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Michael Norris is CEO of Hospitals, North America for Sodexo and a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life. Mr. Norris is committed to developing the next generation of STEM leaders – both women and men – and helping to prepare all young people entering the workforce to be successful.

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