The impact of technology in the home

“The levels of mental disorders, depression and even suicide have increased among the new generations of university students. It is an epidemic that has to do with the impact of technology on our way of life”, Ignacio Aizpún, director general of ATAM.

Madrid | 5 Nov 2021. On the occasion of the presentation of the book The Home in the Digital Age by the international think tank Home Renaissance Foundation, a round table discussion with experts took place last week at Telefónica Foundation to analyse the impact of technology in the home.

The impact of technology on homes and society as a whole is evident, “it is even transforming the way our minds communicate. This has consequences and is causing new diseases due to maladjustment,” explained Ignacio Aizpún, director general of ATAM.

The sociologist and member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts, Julio Díez Nicolás, stated that technology has been with us since the Stone Age, because human beings must survive. Thanks to human intelligence and life in society, people are adapting. “Technology has always been the fundamental factor of social change because it provides us with a different future. Today there are five inventions that will change our lives: artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, holograms and virtual reality,” said Díaz.

But what is Artificial Intelligence and how does it affect our daily lives? María José Monferrer, an engineer and founder of AIverse, tried to answer this question. She defined AI as a “multidisciplinary field of science and engineering whose aim is to create intelligent machines that emulate human intelligence and, eventually, surpass that intelligence. Therein lies the risk.

Monferrer warned that we have implemented some technologies in the home, but we are only at the beginning of the uses we will be able to make of AI. So it’s a good time to stop and assess the risks. It is important to think about how we can apply the rules to protect the fundamental rights at stake: personal data protection, privacy and non-discrimination.

ATAM is clear about the use of AI, as Aizpún stated, “we need to be able to process the information that AI provides us with in the form of data to learn more about the person, their situation, their health variables, their activity, their functioning, their context. Only by transmitting, governing and activating this data in a secure way will we be able to generate responses and solutions that allow the disabled or dependent person to continue living at home in optimal conditions of safety, health and integrity”.

The three speakers and the Director-General of Childhood, Family and Birth Promotion, Alberto San Juan, who closed the event, agreed on the importance of putting the person at the centre of this technological transformation and on continuous, personal and family training as a solution to many of the challenges presented by technologies in the home. “The family must be cared for as the most precious asset and this is done with love, patience and training. The lifelong School for Parents is still essential and necessary. In the Community of Madrid we are facing real dramas due to the misuse of technology among young people,” warned San Juan.

In 2008, the Community of Madrid created a service to help families, inviting them to discuss their concerns about the misuse of technology in the home.  Alberto San Juan explained “we attend to families with children between 10 and 18 years old. Families come when they suspect that their children’s relationship with technology is not good and is not helping family coexistence. Young people are sometimes betting on each other having a 24, 48, which means spending two days in a row playing games and connected to the Internet”.

Despite the risks that technology can pose for households, it was clear that technology is neutral, it is neither good nor bad, in itself, it depends on the use that people make of it, although Aizpún wanted to stress that we have an important mission, “we must create new social institutions, new models of social organisation that allow human beings to adapt to these new environmental conditions that technology is creating”.

How does the Internet affect our lives?

There are few professions, jobs or activities that are now possible to carry out without using the internet. The current coronavirus crisis and the instructions to self-isolate have even more powerfully underlined this, and we are also having direct personal experience of the benefits that being connected to each other via the internet bring.

Although in some homes and in some parts of the world internet access cannot be guaranteed, most of us, with this simple connection have the world at our fingertips. With a single click, we can – or could -buy a flight, enjoy a virtual visit to a museum, read our favourite novel, watch a recently released movie, order food at home or talk to our best friend who lives on the other side of the world. This is greatly valued at this time and a credit to those who have developed AI systems that help the elderly and more vulnerable to feel better connected and therefore less alone.

It is evident that the network has changed the way the world works, from the global financial system, to our own daily lives as ordinary users. This is what Maria Bakardjieva, Dean of the Faculty of Communication at the University of Calgary, Canada, addresses in her latest publication.

In Internet Society, Professor Bakardjieva investigates Internet use and its implications for society through the insights of just such ordinary users. Drawing on an original study of non-professional, ′ordinary′ users at home, the book examines how people interpret, domesticate, and creatively appropriate the Internet by integrating it into the projects and activities of their everyday lives.

How many businesses have flourished thanks to the Internet? How much information and how many good things we share through social networks? Appropriate and responsible use of this amazing tool opens many doors and a huge world of possibilities. Many individuals have been enriched and communities created through the shared interests of family and home concerns – from cooking to child-care. Online hubs offering opportunities for conversations way beyond our immediate circle have been used across society, including by religious communities that use technologies to improve and expand their message.

And this is precisely the idea that Prof. Bakardjieva tries to show in her projects: it is not only the Internet that has influenced people’s lives but the people who have used it in their lives. “Early scholarly writing on the Internet saw cyberspace as an emergent realm separated from real life. Later studies gradually brought in the realization that the online and the offline worlds were tightly intertwined and events unfolding in one of them affected developments in the other. Most recently, some researchers have proposed the idea that there are not two distinct domains of experience, but rather that the virtual and the real have blended into the same fundamental reality to which we wake up every day.”

Without a doubt, the 21st century is the century of communication, of information, and a positive outlook is possible. This century is also though the century of disinformation, fake news and online scams. Despite this very real danger, at  HRF we are very optimistic about the digital age because a responsible use of this technology greatly benefits all family members. The keyword here is “responsible” and this is where work on the ethics of the digital world in our homes -the place where the online and the offline meet – is so clearly needed.

Our own commitment and work in this area continue to grow and we invite those who also engage with these concerns to register for our next academic Conference to be held in London this November, where we are delighted that Professor Bakardjieva will be joining us as a participant.