Technology can get a bad rap. Some people claim it ruins our posture as we hunch over our computer screen; it disrupts our sleep if we look at the blue hues of laptops for too long and apparently robots are going to take over the world. But why is technology consistently the bad guy? Is it because we're becoming immune to new innovations and taking technology for granted?
Technology may be taking a questionable direction at times; at this year's CES for example, we saw the unveiling of a hairdryer that talks to your hair, assessing how damaged it is, and a belt that tightens when you've eaten too much. Not quite life-altering. However when applied correctly, technology can transform the choices we make and the way we experience our various life stages, from childhood and parenthood, all the way through to retirement.
Everywhere you look, more and more young children are being exposed to technology, whether it's a smartphone, an iPad or online gaming. This throws up the question of whether technology is inhibiting the younger generation's ability to socialise. However, recent research has found that technology can, in fact, improve children's social skills. It's been reported that virtual reality (VR) could soon help children with autism to improve their communication skills. Growing up is a difficult process at the best of times, but growing up with autism can present added difficulties. A study by researchers at the University of Texas, which saw children interacting with VR avatars, found that the children who took part in the test showed improved social skills and better relationships at the end of the study. This kind of technology, like Oculus Rift, enables children to practice their social skills in a way that's difficult to replicate in a real-life situation, and can have a big impact on developing these vital skills at a young age.
New lives, newer tech
Becoming a new parent can be daunting. Being the father of five children myself, I speak from experience. There has been research around women in particular finding it difficult to adjust. They want to do their best as a new mother, but don't always have the time to meet with friends and family to discuss their concerns. A report recently found that one in five women experiences severe depression around the time of childbirth. It goes on to explain that one new mother claims an online forum was the reason she was able to turn her life around. Where sometimes a lack of government funding can make it difficult for these new mums to find support, technology, in the shape of online parenting forums like NetMums, can and significantly improve how some women experience this great new stage in their lives. Technology like this enables new parents to become part of a community and seek the advice they need, in an environment where they feel comfortable.
Using technology during retirement can have an impact on how we experience this new life stage. These days, it is very common for over-65s who have retired to continue to work, learn, or travel, and keeping in touch with friends and family is important. But sometimes retirees can feel restricted by new technology that seeks to enable this, with small text or buttons, not to mention complicated user interfaces. They may even be subjected to pressure from their own families to use the latest smartphone, and give in without fully understanding how they work. There are a limited number of manufacturers who are addressing this need for simplicity - and often, it's driven by responses from local government, rather than any brand ethos. It leaves app developers and specialist companies to address the issue. Retirees truly want to use technology. With the right help, their confidence can return and turn even a technophobe into a savvy, older technology adopter.
So when we see the potentially eyebrow-raising innovations at next year's CES, it's important to remember that underneath all the noise, we have access to some really great technology that can enrich our lives, no matter what age we are.