Saudi Society and Technology advancement - how technology has altered society, not always for the best.
Saudi Society and Technology advancement
Almost 65 years have passed, since my father’s pastime amusement as a small child during bright summer nights was counting the stars in the clear skies as he lay down on the straw mat on the roof of the small mud house. In the distance one could occasionally hear the crying of a cock or by the barking of dogs running down the street, which was not too far away since houses then were built no more than four meters high. The chirp of crickets was so familiar and constant you get used to it as if it were not there. It was the buzzing and bites of mosquito, which was most annoying. But the most revolutionary change came when transistor radios were introduced into my father’s village and people were then able to buy them and, as my father lay down at night on the roof he used to put them next to his heads to listen to his favorite songs and programs. It was at this juncture that technology began to drive a wedge between us and nature. We forgot all about the stars and we turned our gaze from up to down. All of a sudden we found ourselves wanting to wash our hands with soup and dry them with towels, and we started telling times by watches instead of by the length and direction of the shade. Another revolutionary change came about when wood was replaced by kerosene burners for cooking and bare light bulbs fixed on the mud walls replaced kerosene lamps as a source of light. I am sure most of the canned foods we craved then out of novelty were expired and not fit for human consumption.
Such awful gadgets did not only cut us off from watching the stars and listening to the sounds of chirping crickets and crying cock. As I recall my father telling me that when it was past midnight, the most pleasant, soothing sounds of natural human voices came from various directions as criers mounted minarets to call for the Fajr Salah, morning prayer. It is amazing how the human voice can carry and modulate in the stillness of the night. It used to sink in and seep through gently into ones whole being. All of a sudden this most pleasant sound turned into a jarring screech when the criers started using microphones and turning them all the way up, as if to force it on you. It began to sound like muster or summon, rather than call to prayers.
Comparing the life style of back then to today it makes one realize how much has changed in the last few decades in the country. Some may think it’s a dramatic change others would argue no its an evolution over time. Usually, change is unpredictable, comes all of a sudden and it might be for better or for worse. It could be revolutionary, violent and disruptive, but it could also be quite and benign. On the other hand, with the right knowledge, proper technology, and sufficient funds, change could be willed, planned and directed towards certain ends in order to achieve desirable goals. The advancement of a country is measured by how much control and planning it could exercise over changes affecting its future. Only countries which have gone a long way on the road of progress and development, especially in the fields of science and technology, could have a certain measure of control over their destinies.
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Evolution is a different story. It is an inevitable response that cannot be planned or predicted. It is a gradual adaptation to changing circumstances that happens in very small imperceptible increments and it is mostly beneficial. Living organisms adjust to their natural environment through biological evolution that could take millions of years. Fast changing environment may not give the organism time to adapt to it and this could spell extinction for the species. Only human species has the capacity to adjust through cultural evolution, which is a much faster and more flexible process.
Saudi Arabia is going through a slow process of social evolution. This makes the change taking place there almost invisible and hard to perceive on day-to-day bases. Mostly, it is not willed or consciously planned. Simply put, it is a spontaneous and practical adjustment to the hard facts and pressing needs of practical daily living in this fast changing modern world. Saudis are too busy trying to change their society or adjust themselves to such change, with no time to document all indicators of it. To be aware of this change and to realize how much progress has been achieved, one needs to scan the Saudi society over the past few decades, especially the last few years, and add together all these small increments of change, each of which constitutes a small step in the ladder towards social progress.
There have been many advancements in technology that have made significant impacts on society and the way things are done. One of them is in the field of communication. Although the invention of the telephone alone made communication faster than stage coach, trains, and the postal service, which were in use at the time, the telephone has now become a mobile device such that people can be reached by phone anytime and nearly anywhere. Mobile phones work by connecting to cellular networks that are mobile network operators. Using cellular networks, calls between mobile phones and other mobile phones or land line phones are seamless, enabling a person using a mobile phone to move over wide areas while talking. Advances in mobile phones have made them more than simply telephones by adding features such as text messages, email, Internet access, cameras, small applications, MP3 players, and GPS. These phones with advanced computing abilities are known as smart phones.
Another advancement in technology that has greatly changed the way society operates is the World Wide Web or the Internet. The Internet brought along with it the development of electronic mail, web-based applications, and inter-linked hypertext documents containing a wide range of information. Traditional communications media such as music, film, and television are changing and being redefined by the Internet. Web sites and blogging have changed the way newspapers, books and other print media get their information out to the public. Many have added or even replaced their print media with web-based sites where the same material can be read for less or even for free. Human interactions have changed with the introduction of electronic mail, instant messaging and social networking. Shopping has gone online and been a boom to both major retail outlets as well as smaller establishments. Any question, no matter the topic, can be easily and simply answered using the Internet.
The implementation of technology influences the values of a society by changing expectations and realities. The implementation of technology is also influenced by values. There are (at least) three major, interrelated values that inform, and are informed by, technological innovations:
First is having a Mechanistic world view. Viewing the universe as a collection of parts, (like a machine), that can be individually analyzed and understood. This is a form of reductionism that is rare nowadays. However, the "neo-mechanistic world view" holds that nothing in the universe cannot be understood by the human intellect. Also, while all things are greater than the sum of their parts (e.g., even if we consider nothing more than the information involved in their combination), in principle, even this excess must eventually be understood by human intelligence.
Second is the greater efficiency. A value, originally applied only to machines, but now applied to all aspects of society, so that each element is expected to attain a higher and higher percentage of its maximal possible performance, output, or ability. For example in the kitchen where there are many new and high-tech appliances one would see due to the advancement of technology would be able to cook faster and in larger quantities than compare to past.
And lastly, is the belief of Social progress. The belief that there is such a thing as social progress, and that, in the main, it is beneficent. Before the Industrial Revolution, and the subsequent explosion of technology, almost all societies believed in a cyclical theory of social movement and, indeed, of all history and the universe. This was, obviously, based on the cyclicity of the seasons, and an agricultural economy's and society's strong ties to that cyclicity. Since much of the world is closer to their agricultural roots, they are still much more amenable to cyclicity than progress in history.
Technology is evolving at a very fast rate, and what most people did not even think could be real a few years ago is now becoming a reality. Cell phones that act more like computers, sans making documents and other important work files, have now taken the world by storm, and a lot of people could not imagine what life would now be like if they didn't have the internet, email, and chat features on their phones at their disposal. The simplest of things, such as TV, movies, and even video games, have also evolved, and each of them offers consumers a wide array of choices and new possibilities.
Although many will use and publicize modern technology for many of its achievements and advancements, what many don't realize is that it has affected and continues to affect society and people in general in a negative way. Advancements in technology have also greatly affected certain sectors of the industry and have even forced certain businesses to shut down for good because there is no more demand for that type of work.
Newspaper companies, for example, have been hit very hard by the advancements in technology. Big newspapers and local agencies have been forced to either lay off a percentage of their work force or shut down altogether because news is readily available for free on the internet. Businesses and companies now rely heavily on digital printing methods for work brochures, magazines, and other advertisement paraphernalia they need, which has put traditional, lithographic printing in a tough bind. Music does not have to be purchased at a music store anymore because mp3 files are readily available over the internet as well, thus causing big music store chains to shut their doors for good. The movie industry has also been hit hard because DVD sales have decreased since people can pay for and download their favorite movies online.
Technology has its benefits, but when you take a look at how it has affected society in general and how people interact with one another, you will quickly see that it has a negative impact. Modern technology has allowed people to communicate with just about anyone they want to at any given time and although this may sound like a good thing, the fact remains that people do not interact personally with one another as often as they used to. This has created a barrier in personable, face-to-face communication amongst people because they no longer have to hold a meeting in an office or they no longer have to call up a friend or family member to wish them a happy birthday or congratulate them on their recent success.
As a result, people are becoming more lazy, and they don't feel the dire need to step outside of their home to find entertainment and fun in things that used to be fun, such as participating in a rousing game of basketball with friends, meeting a friend at a coffee shop, etc. Technology is a privilege to have but interaction with other people is crucial, and being responsible for one's actions and not letting technology rule his or her life is better than becoming desensitized to society.
Now I want to focus on how advancing technology will impact the future economy. There is much discussion we have done of advanced technology itself and of the direct impacts it may have on society. So far, I have not seen a great deal of deep thought given to how the future economy will work. Most people—and nearly all economists—make the obvious assumption about that: they assume the economy will essentially work the way it has always worked. The basic principles that govern the economy are seen as being relatively fixed and reliable. Economists look to history and find evidence that the free market economy has always adjusted to impacts from advancing technology and from resource and environmental constraints, and they assume that the same will always occur in the future. Crises and setbacks are temporary in nature: in the long run, the economy will rebalance itself and put us back on the path to prosperity.
Is it possible that that assumption is incorrect? In his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail, Jared Diamond tells the story of farming in Australia. When Australia was first colonized, the new arrivals found a relatively lush, green landscape. They invested heavily in developing farms on this seemingly fertile land. Within decade or two, however, reality struck. The farmers found that the overall climate was actually far more arid than they were initially led to believe. They had simply had the good fortune (or misfortune) to arrive during a climactic “sweet spot” — a period when there was far more rain than is normally the case. Today in Australia, you can find abandoned farm houses in the middle of what is essentially a desert.
As a result of the current crisis, macroeconomics is in disarray. The various schools of economic thought (and their accompanying mathematical models) have all been built upon observations and analyses that have occurred over a relatively short period of time—at a maximum, the 230 years since Adam Smith, but as a practical matter, a much more recent period. Is it possible that economists, like the farmers in Australia, have built their models based on observations that have been made during an economic sweet spot? Perhaps the historical observations that underly much of economic theory have taken place during a period when we have had enough technology—but not too much. What if we are now advancing out of that economic sweet spot and encountering a new reality in which different economic principles will apply?
That is obviously a radical view that I expect to be widely criticized or, more likely, ignored. Nonetheless, I think it is very possible, and I think that the major factor underlying the transition is a change in the relationship between workers and machines. Historically, machines have been tools used by workers. Over time, machines have advanced to become better and better tools that have increased the productivity, and therefore the value (and wages), of workers. Now however, we are entering an age when machines, on average, will begin to approach autonomy, and as a result, the value that the average worker adds may begin to decline dramatically. That, I think, has the potential the change the basic operating principles of the future economy.