Switch Off

This picture was taken from a balcony of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada during a sleepless Sunday night (due to jet lag) of my conference visit in October 2017. When looking at the office tower opposite to my hotel room, I saw this meeting room, where somebody forgot to shut down the computer for the weekend.

Office illuminated by a login screen on a big TV, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Office illuminated by a login screen on a big TV

Besides running all weekend and unnecessarily wasting energy, this computer figuratively reminded me of a problem in our digitalized society:

People cannot switch off anymore.

Due to the permanent availability of media through the internet and smartphones, it is more and more impossible for people to consume media in moderation. Especially with my generation, I often feel that people have huge problems to actually switch off. When going to lunch with colleagues or meeting friends in a bar, I often notice that they are always distracted, because they check the news or write messages. This is especially annoying when it prevents you from getting a proper conversation started as, for example, they keep on answering messages and do not actually follow what you are saying. There are days, where it would be easier to start writing messages to people instead of talking with them, although sitting in the same room. And even if there is no message popping up, the screen is turned on every now and then as people are afraid to miss anything important. What I am discussing here is not only a problem in people’s personal lifes. Depending on the job, the resulting effects are often intensified as people often feel stressed because of the flood of emails they have to process at work.

You might get the impression from these remarks that I do not like technology. Do not get me wrong, I appreciate and support the advances in technology, otherwise I would not have started studying computer science. Using technology has many positive effects on individuals (e.g., keeping in touch with friends across the globe), society (e.g., the people are able to read ) and companies (e.g., working with partners in different countries). However, I feel that we should rethink the way technology influences our way of living. Progress and changes in society have happened all the time and are in general a good thing. For example, the industrial revolution has changed many things that we nowadays take as granted (e.g., it introduced electricity and mass production) and shaped part of our modern society. However, despite its progress, it also had negative effects that had to be understood (e.g., low incomes of families gave rise to child labor) and controlled through countermeasures (e.g., trade unions fighting for decent wages and rights of workers). Similarly, we should understand the positive as well as the negative effects of digitization on society and learn to cope with them. Especially as a computer scientist, I feel ethically obliged to question digital trends and not to blindly help creating them. Putting the phone aside helps us to focus on the important things in life. For example, going on a vacation with the person you love and to actually enjoy time together is more important than trying to impress people by posting crappy pictures of your vacation on Facebook. So please consider switching off every now and then as it helps us to understand that life goes on without being online all the time.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the author (David Wille) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the author’s current or former employers.