When I was a freshman in high school, my maroon LG enV2 flip phone was my most valued possession. It was primitive by today’s standards—I could only call and text with it—but my parents knew that if they really wanted to get my attention, all they had to do was take it away.
And that’s what they did when I stayed up past midnight to text, as I had been told not to do several times.
But I didn’t readily accept the punishment. I would plead and bargain with them.
When that didn’t work, I’d come home from school and search my parents’ room for the device while they were still at work. On one such day, I found it in my dad’s T-shirt drawer. I turned it on to respond to the messages that had accumulated throughout the school day, and then turned it off, placing it back in the drawer precisely as I had found it.
I could do without TV, without Internet, without a social life, but I needed my phone—even though it had no data plan, no apps, no games, and I didn’t use the alarm clock or calendar. Today, my parents’ punishment would carry a much heavier burden.
In less than a decade, the phones we use—and what we use them for—have radically changed. Our digital world allows for rapid advancements in the ways we connect to one another and the ways we go about our lives. Technological breakthroughs affect working, traveling, communicating, and information gathering—so much that the Internet is considered a basic right by the United Nations.
The social world at our fingertips is also changing how we deal with difficult subjects. People now grapple with death in online grief communities by writing messages to loved ones who have died on public social media posts, and in memorializing accounts to preserve legacies.
Technological advancements have also led to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, which can now do what humans cannot. Though scientists are not close yet, some believe we might eventually create machines that are no different from humans in their capacity to make choices and respond to emotion. It might seem like we’re living in an episode of Black Mirror, with the advancements that seem to happen every week and leave most of us struggling to keep up.
These technologies, along with the advancement of the Internet, are the most important commodities of our time. They bring some terrifying implications but also a freedom that has never existed before. They can enlighten or destroy us. Make our lives easier or cause us hardship.
But one thing is certain: We need technology to function in a society that relies on it, and there is no escaping it.
From birth to death, it is now our destiny—regardless of whether we want it to be.