The New York Times (NYT) conducts an annual Writing Competition for all secondary and undergraduate students in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2018 the theme was ‘Digital Disruption’ with winners selected by NYT’s award-winning journalists and published in the NYT International Edition. The competition was established in 2009 to encourage students to become more informed and globally-minded about important issues in the region and around the world.

The specific question posed for the aspiring writers was:

“Is digital technology disrupting our life and values, or is it creating new ways of living?”

Digital disruption is a transformation caused by emerging digital technologies and business models. Innovative new technologies, as well as various digital platforms created by tech giants, have been influencing our lives in different ways and challenging our traditional values.

With the widespread use of smart devices, so-called netizens are creating their identities and expressing their opinions in an internet world that knows no borders. Are we in control of the digital tools that claim to improve the quality of our lives? Or do we feel threatened by the changes wrought by digital disruption on our traditional ways of living? How is today’s world impacted by these new technologies?

From KIS, we had students from Grades 7-12 who took up the challenge, with Abrar’s being shortlisted by the NYT. 

 

How technology took away my culture

by Abrar Tohid (Class of 2020)

“Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force for a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity.” – Jacques Ellul.

From the invention of Electricity by Edison to Steve Jobs’ iPhone, technology was not only meant to make our lives easier but also to make the world around us revolve faster. It’s commonly understood that as generations go by, we become smarter, our bar for greatness keeps rising and much of it has perhaps been aided by technological development. The world that we have entered now is the single country of the internet, of which we are netizens and in that- we form an anarchy of ideas and self-expression. We tread in the era of globalization, where technology links us in a very artificial, yet real way. But the question is, where are we headed and, are we aware of our past? The internet has, in sense, become the melting pot for ideas and cultures. While the propagation of ideas is necessary for discursive dialogue, the blending of cultures is an issue that is rather fickle, which has given way to the birthing of an unholy child of lost identity.

The idea of linguistic determinism largely revolves around how our thinking processes are based on the culture in which we were raised and what we accept as our first language. Despite coming from Bengali parents and living my entire life in Bangladesh, I have never really ‘thought’ like a Bengali. Colonialism might have ended in the last century, but English simply decided to switch power structures and in symbiosis with technology continued its stronghold on our lives. The internet has exposed us so much to western culture that we hold it in much higher regards to our own, somehow, our own cultures became backdated and we started worshipping the form of self-expression and love that western cultures propagate. The renaissance happened both in the West and in Bengal but somehow Western ideas of art became more important because of Tumblr aesthetics and its obsession with Van Gogh. Technology has made ideas so one dimensional, we drew the conclusion that movements as personal as feminism should have only one voice. We disregard the fact that things such as ‘Free the Nipple’ may be culturally inappropriate in many cases, but that doesn’t undermine feminism in those cultures- because we are one nation, under the internet. What technology did, was strip cultures down to its bare nudity and dressed it in a mesh that would appease to a future generation of no barriers. We have lost our sense of cultural identity. Unity in diversity used to be a thousand words in just three, but somehow diversity fell off of the tricycle along the way. 

Technology has reduced our generation to snapchat filters and Instagram likes and amplified human stupidity stupendously. To Jacques Ellul, Voltaire would perhaps say “A witty saying proves nothing”.

 

What have we become?

by Raghav Suneja (Class of 2019)

Being a part of Gen Z, technology is a daily part of my life, be it the alarm on my phone for when I have to wake up for school, to the laptop I am using to write this opinion. Today’s technology is something without which many people of my generation will throw a tantrum or cry, or wander around like zombies because of living in their virtual world. It can be said that we are a drug addict, who always tries to remain high to escape their brutal reality, some of them being the global warming threatening to destroy our planet within the next twelve years, the violent groups in Africa and with history seemingly repeating itself with President Trump slowly making the USA a dictatorship with his extremely despicable ideas. A tension has been created which might cause another world war to break out.

I have heard of people, both old and young, who have given up their lives to spend it in front of a screen, clicking away while their pets beg for attention from them. Their sounds remain unheard by the headphone covered ears of their owner, their licking of feet not felt because their owner’s feet went numb a while back, and all other methods of attention seeking useless compared to the mesmerizing screen their owner stare for hours on end. These pets often die, usually because of starvation, and sometimes because of a broken heart.

I didn’t have a phone until I was about 13 years old. To the younger readers, I might be classified as a loser because of this, but it doesn’t matter. I was given this phone to use in an emergency, which I did not. I spent my free time playing on it, customizing it to my likes and whatnot. My grades dropped. And then I got a better phone, a smartphone, and suddenly I was watching videos on YouTube all the time, and my grades dropped even more. However, I wasn’t addicted yet, and despite my requests, my parents pampered me. Right now, I hold an iPhone 7 to which I can say I am addicted, and my math grades have never looked so bad. The love of my parents caused this, and the blame can’t be put entirely on them.

Having the latest technology, no matter if it is an institute or a person, has become a status symbol in many societies, and all the brands market their products on this, what can only be described as, competition for superiority.

True, it might have made contact easier and saved many lives, but when was the last time you spent with your grandparents, listening to their love story? When was the last time you hugged your mother? When was the last time you went around the town with your friend without checking your phone every ten seconds to get another follower on your Instagram or maintain the streak on your Snapchat?

 

It’s not technology, it’s us

by Ishita Pandey (Class of 2020)

In all 16 years of my life, I have barely ever spoken to my uncle. I only remember meeting him once or twice when I was very young, and a few conversations over the phone because we lived far away from each other and somehow, had never gotten in touch. But on joining a boarding school where a familiar voice, an understanding smile and a glance of affection are a student’s biggest assets, I picked up my phone to video call him. Hours passed by and we talked without hesitation, without any of the awkwardness I had feared, and soon he became a new part of my life. After that one video call, texts and messages became regular, and he even ended up coming to meet me for the first time in ten years. It almost felt as if technology had bridged the long gap of his absence, allowing him to cross over and begin anew.

This new start took place only because of that one video call, and although it may seem like an ordinary use of technology, its emotional and sentimental value in my life is something I will forever be grateful for. This is also a clear portrayal of the many benefits of technology in our world today. In addition to the better means of communication, another example is that of disabled people, who due to innovations such as braille through electric pulses and eye motions to control laptops, are now able to live normal lives.

However, of the copious advantages technology bestows upon us, the ability to voice opinions and fight against the wrong, collectively as global citizens, is the one I consider the most powerful. In cases such as the #MeToo campaign and the #MuslimBan, increased connectivity due to technology brought together people all over the world to voice their support, making a powerful stance. It is therefore clear that digital tools and platforms are creating ways of living for people which could not have even been imagined a while back.

Many would object to this perspective by pointing out drawbacks of technology such as its addictiveness and how it isolates people from the real world, but I would like to ask one question: is the development of technology to blame, or is it actually the human inability to handle technological developments which is causing these dilemmas? As a solution to the disruptions cropping up due to advancements in technology, all citizens must work towards a balance for the natural aspects of their lives to thrive, and also take benefit of technological advancements. Innovations and developments in themselves are a boon to humanity, but in order to avoid turmoil, we need to use them cautiously by inculcating physical interactions with nature and other people along with the facilities provided by technological developments. However, this is only possible if we believe and prove that technological developments and the simple innate interactions of life can coexist, leading to new ways of living, better than ever before.

 

iPad’s my new best friend

by Nandini Gupta (Class of 2020)

Hello! Meet Kabir, the elder brother of Sahil. Kabir is extremely disappointed in him. Why? They never have a ‘real conversation.’ His brother has another best friend. He is called iPad. iPad is so dear to Sahil that he eats with it, sleeps with it, and breathes with it. So, why is Kabir concerned? He is worried that Sahil is distancing himself from things that should interest him. This is the case with most children and in fact, even adults today.

Ninety five percent Americans own a phone today. Eighty seven percent of them use the Internet. Sixty nine percent of them use some kind of social media. Facebook has one point eight six billion monthly active users worldwide. Seventy five percent of Facebook and Instagram users visit these sites at least once a day. Alarming enough? This is the extent to which digital age has brought society down to its knees. Without a mobile phone, the Internet or social media, the current generation will cease to survive. They need anything today and they know they have the Internet behind their backs. They need updates on Trump’s new administrative policies, they have online newspapers. They need to learn how to bake a cake, they have YouTube tutorial videos. They need to find their way to a friend’s place, they have Google Maps. In conclusion, humans have everything they need available to them on the Internet, which makes them utterly dependent on technology. Imagine a world with no laptops, phones, Internet, and social media. A few years back, such a world could be imagined, but today, it cannot. Humans have the capability to imagine everything, from having a human civilization on Mars to developing flying cars, yet, they cannot imagine a world without technology.

Humans are eating, drinking, and sleeping technology. Human connections have disappeared. Individuals spend a majority of their time viewing screens, even when they share a room with another person or enjoy dinner with family. Hence, social interaction is limiting and Internet interaction is increasing. Evening meeting new faces is being done online. Twenty two percent of eighteen to twenty four year olds use mobile dating apps. This proves how social media has found a way to get into our personal lives. Ninety one percent people sleep within an arm’s reach to their mobile phone, which shows how humans are addicted and dependent on their gadgets. All human data is present on various social media. Every single step we take in our offline world is being recorded somewhere in our online world. It’s not impossible that very soon the entire human existence will turn out to form one big stream of data.

To what extent is this bad? A great extent. Humans are losing their identity in the name of digital technology. If it’s not controlled soon, then we all will be living in a virtual world unknown to human values. How can we control it? Leave your phone aside for one minute. Let’s start with that.

References
  1. Newman, Daniel. “4 Technology Trends Disrupting How We Communicate.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 28 Mar. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/danielnewman/2014/05/13/4-technology-trends-disrupting-how-we-communicate/#4bdb02122529.
  2. “Digital Disruption: Five Ways Technology Is Changing Our Lives.” OchTamale, University of Redlands, 22 June 2017, ochtamalemagazine.net/digital-disruption-five-ways-technology-is-changing-our-lives/.

 

Digital disruption

by Shreya Ambrose (Class of 2024)

Can you imagine a world without computers, phones, television, headphones, and all those jazzy devices you carry with you in your daily life? Do you think life will be better without them? Do you think life will be worse? In this essay, I will tell you my opinion of digital technology, the advantages and disadvantages of a world without digital technology, and if it is creating new ways of living or disrupting our life.

The advantages of a world without digital technology

No one will ever get problems like addiction, low self-esteem, phantom vibration syndrome, selfitis, and all those other physical and mental issues, as these problems only occur because of digital influences on humans, but in this case, there is no digital technology so these issues don’t exist. Another advantage is that people will develop more social skills which mean their heads won’t be stuck in the virtual world of digital technology.

The disadvantages of a world without digital technology

No one will ever be able to talk to anyone who is far away from them which makes their bond start detaching from each other and maybe even forget each other and never know each other when they finally meet face to face. If digital technology never existed we will be behind the future which means all those famous inventors will become failures and this essay would have never existed in the first place. Another disadvantage is that human life will be that much harder on earth which means a singer’s songs will never be published so that profession will be recognized as the poorest job rather than them being celebrities and earning up to a million dollars per year.

Is digital technology disrupting our lives or is it creating new ways of living?

Digital technology is a vast subject area which includes all electronics which are created by the human race or maybe even artificial intelligence which is yet to be found out; these items can impact us only on the way we choose to use them as they have no mind of theirs which means its all our choices that depend on how digital technology will impact you, so if you choose to use them a bit too much it will disrupt our lives but if you choose to use it balanced, then technology will create new ways of life.

Technology is just a group of ideas that humans have thought of, through the centuries which have been fulfilled over time. These ideas should never affect people negatively and were never supposed to do so; then why did people get affected the more technology advanced? This only depends on the human’s thoughts and ideas of the electronic gadget that is in their hands, so what do you choose to do? The best choice is to live with these gadgets the balanced way, rather than spoiling your life and adding up to all the spoilt lives by digital technology which means digital technology can come to an abrupt stop.