Nicole Thrower

The Technological Bridge: From Computers to Cellphones

“Our technological powers increase, but the side effects and potential hazards also escalate”, said American writer Alvin Toffler. New data and reports show Toffler may have been correct in his statement. Every year, electronics increasingly become a part of the world. As I walk around the streets of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco or Danville, I see individuals immersed in devices. I see people out to dinner that prefer to text someone who isn’t currently with them. I see individuals crossing the street without looking because they are so involved with a facebook post or video game. Other times I see technology benefiting its user. An injured person, instantly calling an ambulance for help, an employee in India sending an important report to an American coworker via email. All these scenarios set the basis for my project. I saw that technology is used as a “bridge” to other realms. For example, cell phones can be a “bridge” to instantly communicate with people from other parts of the world, and computers can be a “bridge” to media sources such as local news sites or global networks. To get a sense of people’s relationships with technology, I conducted short interviews. I primarily focused on cell phones because they are such a major part of technology today but I also interviewed people with other devices to learn if cell phones were still the most popular devices. I found that people utilizing other electronics relied on their cell phones the most as a device. Each person had unique reasons why they used their device and its significance in his or her life. Most did not address the potential harm and concerns that these devices may bring. Through careful observation, I could see that these machines caused shorter attention spans for some, a strong desire for instant gratification, or compulsive behavior.

I then began researching studies, blogs, and statistics that provided explanations for both the high popularity of technological usage, and the effects of using electronics. Several studies showed that there has been an increase in technological usage over the years due to the convenience it provides as well as the push to purchase from top companies such as Apple, Android, and Microsoft. In 2012, there were 2.4 billion Internet users and currently smartphone subscriptions are at 1.5 billion, increasing 28 percent yearly in America. This growth in technological use has brought up concerns with the environment because of the equipment such as telephone poles and electronic wires it requires. Before cell phones, only telephone poles made of wood, metal, or concrete existed. However, due to the substantial increase of cell phones, cell phone towers, also called cell phone antennas, have been developed in addition to telephone poles. With both telephone poles and cellphone towers, concerns such as pollution, toxicity, and waste threaten the environment. Other concerns are related to the human brain and compulsive behavior. A New York Times poll found that the majority of Americans say that devices have improved their lives and made them easier, however; others say that devices have been intrusive, make it difficult to concentrate, and increase stress levels. Through these various forms of research, it is clear that technology highly impacts society through providing instant education, communication, and gratification. Though technology has benefited the majority by greater efficiency for life’s demands, it also introduces concerns with the environment, the human brain, and compulsive behavior.

This woman said she was waiting for a friend and figured she would go on facebook while she waited. She admitted that she spent too much time on her phone, as did most of the people she knows. She uses her phone everyday. Though it was a beautiful sunny day, she chose to look at facebook instead of taking in her surroundings. This is an example that illustrates the research of Liz Soltan, a Cornell graduate who conducts technology studies, “On an emotional level, posting a Facebook status, a tweet, or an Instagram photo feeds on and reinforces our need for instant approving feedback. Becoming too used to instant gratification in the virtual world can lead to poor choices and major frustrations in the real world.”

Many individuals rely on their phones for fast answers to questions or confusion that they have. Siri, an application developed by Apple, is supposed to answer any question it is asked. This woman I came across relied on Siri for directions. She said that her phone was more reliable than the GPS in her car and she often uses her phone for any questions she has.

This student uses his computer to take notes in class although he admitted that he was checking hockey scores from the last game. He says his most used device is his phone, though not an iPhone, it is a smartphone. He prefers texting people which is easy on his phone with a big keyboard and wide screen. “Fifty-four percent of “Digital Natives” (people who were born in the age of the internet) agree with the statement, “I prefer texting people rather than talking to them.” This also made me think of how easily the younger generation is distracted or bored. As technology is used more, the ability to concentrate diminishes for some.

For the majority of people, technology benefits their lives. Liz Clark, an interviewee from The New York Times poll mentioned earlier, said that technology has simplified life in many ways for. She can shop online, stay in touch with friends, and keep tabs on her three children. “I can text them, and they get back to me immediately,” Ms. Clark said. Clark is not alone in her joy with technology. I found many way that people utilize their devices for greater efficiency in my interviews. This demonstrates that many people use their devices as a “bridge” in multiple ways.

Line of phones at lunch: Instagram and snapchat entertained this group of students as they waited for their food. The girl closest says that she uses her phone for “literally everything”, as she put it. I watched as she rapidly scrolled down the photos. She spent no longer than 3 or 4 seconds per photo. This demonstrates another aspect of Soltan’s research, particularly, a digital responsibility study that she discusses: “As our technology moves faster, our patience grows thinner. A huge study from UMass Amherst, which surveyed 6.7 million users, showed that viewers tend to abandon online videos if they take more than 2 seconds to load. Most users stay on a single web page long enough to read only 20% of the text on that page, according to a survey by the Nielsen Norman Group.”

This ad contributes to the growing number of technology users. Whether we realize it or not, we were all surrounded by technological persuasion. We are constantly bombarded with images that make us feel that our devices are dated. We always need the latest device, and when we receive the “latest” it soon becomes obsolete.

This student was using her phone to look at the social network Twitter. She had thought of a tweet the night before that she wanted her followers to see but became angry when her twitter app wasn’t functioning correctly. She uses her phone mainly for texting and social media.

These boys were both on their phones as I walked by them. Though they had each other to converse with, they chose to play video games on their phones. The lack of human interaction was interesting. They said that their lives are much easier now that they have phones and they use their phones for texting, calling, and gaming. Though they claimed that their lives are easier, it was clear that technology negatively affects each of them. The boys were so engrossed in their devices that they weren’t really aware of their surroundings. They also seemed to be affected by the instant gratification brain stimulus that many individuals receive when using technology.

Digital Responsibility, a website that brings awareness to the negative effects of technology provides information about society’s addiction to social media. Much of the statistics and data it lists, correlated with what I observed in my interviews. Another study by “Pew Research Internet Project” conducted a survey on the younger generation’s technological obsession. It found that 95% of teens ages 12-17 are online, 76% use social networking sites, and 77% have cell phones. Moreover, 96% of those ages 18-29 are internet users, 84% use social networking sites, and 97% have cell phones. This also correlated with many of my interviews. I found many people who used their phones primarily for social media.

This woman uses her phone for “unimportant purposes”, as she put it. The main reasons she goes on her phone is to text, call, and view social media. She can imagine life without her phone and believes that life would be easier without a phone if everyone else did not have one either.

I asked this woman what she used her phone for and if she thought technology was necessary in society. She said that she is a contractor who uses her phone as her main device for communication in all forms (texting, emailing, and calling). She even uses her phone to take pictures for her job and landscaping. She said that technology is essential in this society if you want to have a job and make a living. She also said that she did not feel that technology was necessary to survive and live as human beings. She appreciates technology more now than she did ten years ago. “It has a purpose now and makes life much easier in many ways.” She fell in line with those who see more of the benefits. Cathy Cavanaugh, an associate professor of educational technology at the University of Florida, noted, “Throughout human history, human brains have elastically responded to changes in environments, society, and technology by ‘rewiring’ themselves. This is an evolutionary advantage and a way that human brains are suited to function.” There are positives to technological evolution.

This man stood in the shade and I snapped a photo right as the third woman he was with (I assume his wife) went to talk to their daughter sitting on a BART bench. As soon as she walked away from him, he had his phone in his hand. “We’re used to hearing parents complain about tech-addicted teens, but teens are also frustrated with their tech-dependent parents. I thought this related to a Common Sense Media study which collaborated with the digital responsibility project: 28% of teens say their parents are “addicted” to their mobile devices, and 21% wish their parents would spend less time glued to their phones or other devices.”

Utility poles support the electricity cables and wires that come from cable companies for our personal use. These poles contribute to the continuous expansion of technology (i.e. cell phones, computers, televisions). Even though newer wires are placed underground, around 135 million utility poles remain in service in America. The majority of utility poles are wood though some concrete and steel poles are used. The environmental concern goes further than cutting down trees for usage. The real problem lies within the toxic chemicals used to preserve the wooden poles. The main types of preservatives used in the U.S. are creosote, chromate copper arsenate (CCA), and Penta. The materials that form chromate copper arsenate are poisonous to fungi and insects that are attracted to wood. Creosote has been utilized as a wood preservative for more than 100 years in the U.S. Penta was the most popular all-purpose pesticide until 1984 in America. All of these threaten the environment.

The newer cell phone towers are often disguised as trees, gas station signs, boulders, church steeples, and cactus. This is minimizing the obtrusive towers that have cluttered society. These take up much less space than older utility poles because various cell phone carriers are used on the same tower with separate antennas, meaning that more cell phones can use the same tower for service. Cell phone towers must be placed above ground which differs from underground telephone cables. The cell phone poles transmit radio frequencies that wireless phones utilize for sending and receiving messages. Though there are still concerns with radiation that emits from the cell phone frequencies, these newer cell phone towers attempt to improve the older telephone pole pollution.

“Tree towers resembling araucaria trees have six tiers of horizontal branches, each tier bearing a carrier antenna cluster. Each antenna cluster services a separate cell phone carrier.” This is an example of a cell phone tower in El Sobrante. It is quite unnoticeable from the road, as I came closer I saw all of the aspects that make it electronic. I appreciated that it was a bit more covert than the telephone poles all around the city.

Three varying methods of disposal of the pole are landfill, incineration, and re-cycle for other uses. Each of these options releases chemical preservatives into the environment. The common option is that the poles are disposed of in landfills. Once the poles are in the landfills, the harsh preservatives leach into the ground water, which is an extreme environmental concern.

Though steel does not require harsh preservatives, the process of creating steel poles releases several toxins in the air. The world requires these poles for technological use, though many do not realize the damage that they cause over the years. I found the contrast between nature and electricity here really interesting. These poles were built through the trees, disturbing the natural growth of the plants, all for the human desire of convenience.

Though he was on his computer, this student said that his phone was the most reliable device he owns. He uses his phone to “check out” as he put it. His phone is a “bridge” to the music realm. He says that he focuses better when he listens to music. He uses his phone everyday and cannot imagine being without it on a daily basis.

This student used her phone to check her flight schedule for the next couple of days. “I can check into flights on my phone instead of having to go on a computer or do it in the airport”, she says.

This small flower shop uses an I-pad to make transactions for customers. The two girls who run the shop find it much easier to manage than a regular cashier machine and like that it does not take up much space. Technology makes both of their lives easier, especially their cellphones, which are easily accessible and small enough to transport just about anywhere.