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The (Digital) Man in the Mirror

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Who remembers a time when being a geek was socially awkward?

I think it's fair to say that the tables have turned and the geeks are now the cool kids. If in doubt, take a glance at Silicon Valley: there's now a trend called "tech savvy" – everyone wants to be tech savvy. Businesses want to appear tech savvy. During recruitment, an interviewer might ask a candidate if they are tech and social-media savvy. 'Tech savvy'... it sounds like an additional adjective on a dating profile: 'Cool, calm, collected AND tech savvy'.

Technology is now a trend. But I want to submit to you that technology ought to be and is more than just a trend: it is a tool – a tool to impact our world.

I remember a time when only the rich could afford mobile phones. They would usually pose in public where everyone could see them and would talk to either a real or imaginary friend on their mobile phone.

"Hello... yes this is me... I'm calling you from my mobile phone [*chuckles]".

A few years later, the most radical thing happened. My uncle came to the house and told my mother about the "camera phone". I had never been more awe struck and confused in my life.

"What is this camera phone? Is this a Kodak camera with a dialling option? Or is this a phone with a camera and how do we print out photos?" – These were some of the questions I asked myself.

Surely enough we got a camera phone. The brand was Sagem. We took endless photographs. This was before selfies were considered cool; yet somehow I had a feeling that this little "camera phone" could somehow change the world.

Fast forward in time and almost everyone in the world has a mobile phone. Almost all modern smart phones have cameras. We can snap pictures and upload them simultaneously to any and every part of the world in no time.

The camera phone has also revolutionised journalism.

In an article by the Columbia Journalism Review called How Smartphone Video Changes Coverage of Police Abuse, it was stated that smart phones have helped "catalyse the national discussion on race and law enforcement, fundamentally changing the way journalists report and share news of alleged police abuse".

As some of us are aware, before the smart phone revolution cases of police brutality were largely underreported in the USA. So again, we see how the mobile phone has transcended from a trend to a tool.

On the subject of revolution, this present age marks an epoch: a fourth industrial revolution called the digital revolution. The first revolution happened in Britain around 1784 with the introduction of steam and water powered mechanical production equipment. This was followed by the second industrial revolution in the 1870s which introduced mass production through the use of electric powered equipment. The third was a revolution started around 1969 introducing electronics, IT, automated production and biological advances. The fourth industrial revolution builds up from the third.

The question we must now ask ourselves in this fourth digital revolution, with all its attractions and distractions, is whether we are going to be tourists or activists: Are we going to be like tourists, simply fascinated by the ingenuity and being 'tech savvy'? Or are we going to be like activists – using technology as a tool to impact future generations in present times?

Before answering the above we need to consider the problems that arise from this digital revolution, one of which is minding the gap – or bridging the technological divide. So let's map the problem with the gap.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics in 2009 revealed that 30% of households in Britain did not have internet access. Even though the majority of people in Britain have the internet, 10 million remain offline. 10 million is the approximate population of Portugal. Of those, 4 million are the most socially and economically vulnerable; for example the elderly.

There are so many avenues and self-development programmes on the internet that these members of the population are missing out on. Think about the online courses they could undertake – a potential worker becomes a worker with potential. A potential work force won't feel forced to work, they'd feel inspired to. It's all about using technology as a tool to impact generations.

But what about global problems?

Earlier, I referred to the digital revolution which has brought with it so many opportunities. However, Jim Yong King, the President of the World Bank – who I imagine would have a lot to say post Brexit – warned that "for digital dividends to be widely shared among all parts of society, countries also need to improve their business climate, invest in people's education and health, and promote good governance." In the global south, there is work to be done domestically before we can really talk about technology.

Yet paradoxically, technology can be a tool to combat some of the issues prevalent in such areas. For example, Christine O'Connell (head of Strategy and Business Development for Risk at Thomson Reuters) delivered a speech called Using data to combat global slavery in the supply chain. She proposes that "we develop a global information and intelligence platform to combat slavery, helping global corporations to eradicate this scourge from their supply chains."

All of us should harness the power of our imagination and intellect to create ways to make our world a better place (preferably through technology).

 

In today's world, the word 'sustainability' has never meant more than it currently does. Our dependence on crude oil for the products we enjoy in our daily lives – everything from the fuel in our vehicles to ground-breaking pharmaceutical drugs – has now put us in a position where we must find alternative sources of our fuels and chemicals. So, we turn to biomass (in other words, matter derived from what was once living – plants mostly).

On the surface, it is a great idea – we'll never run out of plants as long as we grow them and since we'll always need to grow them to eat, we'll never stop growing them. But what happens when in a world where poverty still exists and the bare necessity that is food becomes scarce for some? Surely, the need for human survival outweighs any secondary need for fuel and chemicals.

Once again, we find that there are flaws with this solution. Is there another way? What if we can use the same plants to make a living, but only the parts that are non-edible? The team at the University of York's Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence are among those working on how to convert waste biomass into useful resources and, by extension, alleviate poverty.

The team are working on developing new chemical methods that bypass the need for crude oil, using sustainable sources like microwave reactions instead of traditional energy-intensive methods. It's all about using technology as a tool to impact future generations in present times.

So what is being promised in the long run?

As discussed, we can either be like tourists or we can be like activists. We can either evade the challenges, or embrace them. We could laud, applaud or we could act. You have a choice and a chance.

But if we choose to act and if we harness the power of our imagination and intellect to create ways to make our world a better place through the tools of technology, we would offer the promise of a better tomorrow to future generations.

In conclusion, I'd like to end with lyrics from Michael Jackson's Man in the mirror:

I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror

I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways

And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer

If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place

Take A Look At Yourself and Then Make A Change




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