Technology affects almost every aspect of 21st century life, from transport efficiency and safety, to access to food and healthcare, socialization and productivity. The power of the internet has enabled global communities to form and ideas and resources to be shared more easily. However, the overuse of some technology has been linked to a decline in mental health, increased social division and privacy concerns.
We take technology for granted every day – even when it’s delivering us the latest news in an instant, making our cappuccino, or connecting us with a loved one halfway across the country (or even the world).
Of all the recent innovations, which are the ones that we truly couldn’t imagine everyday life without? Has the coronavirus pandemic made us even more reliant on tech, or helped us overcome the year’s challenges?
We take a look at the seven most important ways that tech has impacted our lives in recent years.
“Come here Watson, I need to see you.” These were the first words that Alexander Graham Bell uttered over his revolutionary invention back in 1876, and it's fair to say that the trusty telephone has had a good run. Bell originally dreamed that there would be ‘one in every town’. He was right of course – in fact, these days, there’s one in every person’s pocket. However, technology has seen the traditional audio call being edged out in favor of messaging and social media as a way of touching base.
Another medium that has seen a boom in the last few years is video calling. It’s nothing particularly new – the concept has been around for about as long as Bell’s telephone – but the revolution of high speed broadband at affordable prices means that it’s now easy to send and receive the amounts of data needed for a video call.
While video calling has spent the last decade slowly creeping into daily life, it’s the ongoing pandemic that has pushed it over the edge and secured its future as an everyday way to stay in touch.
Thanks to lockdowns and social distancing, families and friends are meeting up and socialising via video call more than ever before. If you hadn’t heard of Zoom last year, you will have certainly become aware of it this year, and while there are plenty of other video conferencing apps out there, it’s Zoom that has emerged the poster child for video chat in the public consciousness. This is backed up by the firm's impressive claim of 300 million ‘daily participants’ earlier in the year, compared to ‘just’ 10 million back in December 2019.
It’s not just social lives that have been transformed by video calls, either. The pandemic has also meant that more of us are working from home than ever, and in-person meetings have been replaced with video conferencing as office staff swap the boardroom for the bedroom (or wherever else they can find space to work at home).
While Zoom is a great tool for catching up with buddies, can it do the job of supporting your business through the pandemic? We’ve evaluated several high profile video conferencing systems, and can help you find the right one for your company in minutes.
We’re spending more of our lives online than ever before. According to one report, Americans spent six and a half hours a day online in 2019 – a stat that is bound to have skyrocketed since lockdowns started.
Shopping? It’s done on Amazon. Catching up with friends? It’s FaceTime, Snapchat, or email. Want to be entertained? Netflix, or online gaming. Research? Hit up Google. Almost every facet of our daily routines can be catered for online today, so it seems inevitable that our time spent online will only increase.
While access to everything online gives us an unparalleled level of convenience, it has also made us vulnerable. Every move we make online is recorded, and we leave digital footprints wherever we visit. Hackers and scammers know this, and work hard to exploit it for financial gain.
Of course, as with everything else, technology has also given us the tools to protect ourselves and ensure that we are safe as our lives migrate online. In 2021, this is even more key – many of us are not only browsing for personal reasons, but accessing shared work networks from our own homes, and we can’t rely on the closed off security of the physical office.
One piece of technology that will help keep your data safe is the password manager. A password manager will protect your existing passwords, suggest new and secure ones, and in some cases, even monitor the web to ensure that your details aren’t compromised. Not only that, but it will do away with that ever-present fear we all have of forgetting one of our many, many passwords. If you don’t have one, there’s never been a better time to invest –plus, with some of the best apps only costing a few dollars a month, it’s a great low cost solution for added security.
Another great security advancement is the Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN will bypass your internet service provider and mask your digital footprints. Nobody will be able to see the content you are accessing, and it makes you a lot less susceptible to hackers. You can also use public Wi-Fi accounts with more confidence. Many businesses have adopted them recently, as well as home users. Our recommendation? Surfshark. It's packed with features, but is also simple to use, which is why it rated so highly in our VPN head to head review.
Finally, there’s anti-virus software, providing a great shield from all the nasties out there on the internet looking to catch us out. This includes ransomware and malware, which is usually designed with the intent of extracting money from victims. From individuals to government, nobody is immune, and good antivirus software is a great way to capture and quarantine such efforts before they can wreak havoc.
As we’ve mentioned, shopping has found a convenient and popular home online, but that’s not to say the high street is to be ignored – after all, you can’t really beat seeing a product in the flesh before you buy it, and you can’t eat out online just yet (you can order a delivery, but that’s not quite the same)…
Technology hasn’t bypassed physical shopping either. Thanks to contactless cards and phone payments, we don’t need to worry about handing over cash or keying in a pin number – just tap to pay, and you’re done.
If you’re a business, then a Point of Sale (POS) system is a huge boon, regardless of your size. With a POS, not only can you take payments electronically, but you can also automatically manage stock levels, create electronic receipts, manage loyalty schemes, manage sales and so on. It doesn’t need to be costly, either – POS systems start at around $30 a month, and some even offer free hardware. To find out more, take a look at our POS system reviews, and compare POS systems today.
Of course, you don’t need to leave the house to shop. With the vast majority of us owning a tablet, laptop or smartphone, we’ve all got easy access to a virtual shop front right in front of us, where we can buy pretty much anything we want.
Technology has also democratized retail. It used to be the case that you needed a physical presence to start your own shop – now all you need is a computer and an idea.
Sharing your wares with the world is easier than ever. This is thanks to the simplicity of website builders – tools that can help you create professional looking websites in minutes, then sell your products or services.
Better Information Access
Today, if you want to find something out, it’s no more strenuous than a couple of clicks. For many of us, we don’t even need to move from the spot – simply pull out your phone and get Googling, or even ask your smart home assistant.
It may seem like a distant memory, but it wasn’t so long ago that you’d have to take a trip to the library to find out more in depth information about a subject, if it was available at all. Now, due to these advances in technology, you can find hundreds of thousands of web pages dedicated to pretty much anything you can dream of, from “crochet patterns” (Google gives 129,000,000 results) to “Roman history” (1,360,000,000 results).
It’s something of a cliche, but there is literally an app for anything, and they’ve rendered a lot of other mediums all but obsolete for many of us. Take GPS, for example – if you want to know how to get somewhere, it’s simply a case of pulling up an app like Google Maps and choosing the best route, which will come complete with directions, as well as satellite imaging. There are even apps for businesses that automatically route vehicles alongside traffic, weather, safety and legal information. App technology has also made learning, dating, dining, and almost anything else you can think of a lot easier for us.
Not to be overlooked either are the actual devices that all these apps run on. The rise of the smartphone has been exponential over the last decade, and daily web searches on mobile devices now outnumber those on laptop or desktop computers. Improvements continue to be made to handheld devices, each and every year, without fail.
The mobile phone is now considered an essential device for almost everyone, vastly superseding its original use as a telephone (to actually talk to people), and becoming our pocket-sized portal to an online world.
Virtual Social Lives
Another seismic change in our lives has been the introduction of social media. This industry has progressed fast, and the early days of the likes of MySpace and the original iteration of Facebook seem like a bygone age already. Services such as Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and others now give us an insight into the waking lives of others in real time, whether they’re friends with a few followers, or celebrities with millions.
Businesses have got in on the act too, and a savvy social media manager is considered essential in most companies, with their ability to make or break a brand's reputation.
Social media's course over the last few years has been somewhat bumpy, but as a society, or many societies, we’ve never seen global communication on such a scale. It has enabled the rise of social commentary and movements, such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, as well as leaving us vulnerable, with the likes of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal serving to manipulate voters and skew democracy.
America has also seen its first President to relay information primarily via Twitter – we’ll leave that up to you as to whether or not that’s a positive.
Social media can be fun, but studies have also shown that it can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. It’s so bad, in fact, that some governments are calling for social media companies to be more responsible – especially when it comes to younger users. A study in the UK found that 46% of young girls reported that social media had a negative impact on their self esteem, so there’s clearly a lot to fix.
Ultimately, social media is only as positive as the hands of the people it’s in – but it looks like it’s here to stay, whether you like it or not.
As a consumer, you can choose to opt out, but businesses yet to get in on the action will soon fall behind the competition. Digital marketing is a hugely important aspect of any company with an online presence, and an essential one to get right.
2020 will be remembered for a lot of negative reasons, but one of its most defining positives has been the widespread acceptance of working from home. With the pandemic in full swing, many had to abandon their offices and log on from their own residences. At its peak, 42% of Americans were working from home, according to one study. And even once this pandemic has passed, the trend looks set to continue, with large companies such as Twitter and Microsoft already stating that their staff can work from home indefinitely.
For many, working from home has been something of a revelation – no commuting, more flexible hours, a lessened environmental impact, and being able to choose where they work from. All this is made possible thanks to technological advancements, yet again – a perfect marriage of hardware and broadband.
That’s not to say working outside the office doesn’t have its challenges – organising employees who are spread across various locations successfully can certainly present problems. But yet again, our friend technological progress comes to the rescue, this time with remote working software, which can aid in organisation, time management, goal focus and structure.
Smarter Health Tracking
Another trend in technology has been the rise of fitness devices. While we’ve been using tech to help us stay trim for many years now, we’ve never before been able to do it to such a scientific degree, with instant feedback and recommendations from devices that can monitor our workouts as we complete them.
If you want to know how invested we are in the fitness tech market, look no further than Apple, whose Apple Watch is heavily advertised as a fitness device. In 2019, the company sold 31 million of them, making it the most popular watch brand in the world – far surpassing the likes of traditional brands like Rolex and Omega.
So what can a fitness watch actually do? We’re far beyond the days when your ‘sports watch’ could merely record your lap time. We now have the ability to monitor our heartbeats and blood pressure, track and monitor exercise plans, and even monitor our sleeping patterns.
If you’re looking to buy one this year, Tech.co has reviewed and compared some of the best fitness watches out there – including FitBit, Apple Watch, and Garmin Forerunner – to find the best for features and budget.
So, there we have it – seven dramatic ways that technology has impacted our daily lives for good. Of course, technology never takes a rest, and you can bet that it won’t be long before some of the devices and services we’ve covered here are superseded – in many cases, their next iteration is already being worked on in a lab somewhere. Regardless, there’s no denying that technology has, and will continue to, have a huge impact on our lives, in one way or another.
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