We often take for granted the impact technology has on our everyday lives. I was poignantly reminded of the importance of technology a week ago when I used my smartphone and the Internet to diagnose the warning signs of appendicitis. Having had the last few days at home after surgery, I began to ponder several important aspects of technology. Critics often scoff at the importance of technology in development saying that technology has a limited role if any. I do not claim that technology is the silver bullet, yet my own immediate experience indicates that technology has an important role to play in both general human development activities and also more pertinently to our own work in democracy and civil society development.
When diving into the literature and history of appendicitis it turns out that the phenomenon has been diagnosed since at least the 15th century. However, a May 1983 article in the Annals of Surgery notes that only in the last 40 years mortality rate for appendicitis has begin to decline dramatically. In 2010 alone there were approximately 35,000 people who died from the disease globally. Every year in the United States alone approximately 290,000 people are afflicted with appendicitis. So what does technology have to do with appendicitis? The survival rate and general length of hospital stay associated with the removal of an appendix is significantly shorter if the condition is diagnosed prior to the appendix rupturing. This is where technology played an invaluable role in my own experience. While feeling severe abdominal pain I used my smartphone and a bevy of health sites to hone in on the exact nature of my condition. I was able to read advice from others, as well as the advice of top medical professionals from the Mayo Clinic. Having all of this at my fingertips prompted me to go to the emergency room to get checked out. Had this advice not been available it is likely I would have waited past the point of rupture. Technology here facilitated an informed decision-making process.
Second, while the Internet and mobile phones have made us more astute consumers of information, there is no doubt they also influence how we perceive issues in our modern world. Citizens now increasingly turn to the Internet for many things in their political lives. They seek out information on candidates, register to vote, locate their polling stations, become involved in political campaigns, share their thoughts on topics related to government services, and much more. We have seen the use of technology to mobilize groups to stand up to oppression and the use of technology as a means of dissent in and of itself.
Third, technology is changing and part of a symbiotic cycle. We both learn from and improve upon technology and in turn technology advances. The process is not linear nor is it always accurate. Many of the sites I visited for my own diagnosis were inaccurate or filled with hearsay. The same is true of information and sites aimed at improving political processes. Misleading information citculated to dissuade or intimidate people from engaging their governments or from voting. We have seen horrible atrocities committed by using radios to broadcast signals indicating a time to begin a process of genocide. Yet technology marches on. Its ability to connect and to increasingly provide information can and does have a life changing effect. It can indicate when it is absolutely necessary to go to the hospital or where to meet fellow supporters of a cause.
For me, technology has been a life changer. How has technology changed your life and how is it changing the lives of the people in your community?