In the past, whenever I would think about technology and the future of this country or even the world, I couldn’t help but worry. It seemed as though the world was full of educated individuals who were creating technology that reduces the need for humans to perform labor, think and be social. That didn’t sound bad until I realized no one was talking to one another outside of some sort of social media or gadget. Then I thought about all of the shortcuts technology provides for just about everything, whether it’s information gathering or figuring out how to get around in your car without actually driving. I thought we were only educating ourselves to 1) wear the “Educational Debt” Badge of Honor and Struggle, and/or 2) to be able to sit back and do nothing, possibly eliminating the need for the badge all together. Essentially humans were trading their human uniqueness, value and autonomy for automation and comfort.
But as I revisit the topic, I have a change of heart: maybe technology is bringing us together and empowering us. Maybe it gives us more power and control in the exchange of information and knowledge; maybe it enables community members to control of how their environment looks and operates. Maybe technology reestablishes old values, such as transparency with those we elect to represent us.
Think about Smart Cities: in essence, smart cities create a quality of life by using information and communicative technologies to excel in economic development, mobility, environmental justice, safety, and health. As technology expands to include a variety of accessible data, even those without a 4-year college degree are able to create technology that addresses those areas and link strangers in communities (i.e., Bluetooth, wireless sensors and tech, hybrid cars, Uber Eats, Fitbit, Google Earth, Snapchat). City officials have better access to a wide variety of data and analytical tools, which allows them to better understand and plan for their constituents to address urban problems. Essentially, Smart Cities are gathering so much data and information from technology that answers to various urban problems are available at the click of a dataset.
What’s even better, we, as their constituents, have access to most of the same data and technology. Developments by techies such as search engines, advanced sensors, smart phone apps and even the ability to store information has allowed us the chance to educate ourselves and demand a seat at elected decision makers’ tables to provide relevant information and feedback on the effectiveness of systems and polices. It even provides the option to provide solutions to our own problems rather than rely on decision makers. And of course, the same data and technology has resurfaced an old but overlooked value: transparency in government. Since today’s tech makes workings of the government more accessible to the public, it’s more difficult for our elected leaders to abuse their power. In other words, WE hold the power, thanks to our tech!
It’s easy to fall into the “oh this generation is this and that” mode and blame all of society’s negative traits on technology. But thanks to humans’ dependency on technology, we are gaining more value and power, and are transforming cities and their structure to a more bottom-up system rather than a top down. I believe that cities accepting the digital transformation of society are generally becoming more socially connected and equitable environments where people thrive. “We, the People” are not reduced to our utility; we are more powerful and are a necessity if cities are to bring about any significant, lasting change or improvements through technology. So, I retract my past conclusions that technology will assassinate the value of the human and that education will only create an educated class of lazy individuals; technology will open the door for both the educated and uneducated to work together to design efficient, safe, healthy and people-centered communities.
Christie Holland is an aspiring planner at the University of Texas-Arlington, with a passion in building social equity and transportation planning. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling to new cities and experiencing other cultures and traditions.