The rapid rise of electronic computing in the 20th century changed the course of modern civilization. Although many of the effects have been positive, PCs have also impacted lives in undesirable ways. As computer technology continues to advance and new generations of machines grow faster and have greater capabilities, the machines become more deeply fixed in daily life, magnifying both the benefits and the downside risks.
Easy Information Access
Computers have revolutionized the everyday access of information, whether for business, scientific or personal use. In the space of 15 minutes, you can buy movie tickets, check the latest sports scores and research different brands of pickup trucks from your home computer. Smartphones, PCs and other computing devices have standard ways of handling data, allowing a rapid and free exchange of information. Computer software has become easy and intuitive to use, giving more people access to the information they want with less effort.
Computers now control many kinds of machines, vastly improving the convenience, safety and productivity of their use. For example, computers are crucial to the antilock brakes that are commonplace in vehicles. Motion sensors fitted to each wheel continually feed data to a dedicated computer. If you brake hard and a wheel stops rotating, the computer “pumps” the brakes rapidly, restoring proper motion to the wheel. The computer takes action in a few thousandths of a second, preventing the car from skidding out of control.
Fast, Accurate Data Processing
In many areas, computers have taken on small, repetitive tasks, freeing people’s time for more important endeavors. Before computers became fixtures in business, bookkeeping was handled by legions of clerks. Today, computers process millions of records in seconds, improving reliability and accuracy while reducing costs. Scientists enjoy the same advantage, giving computers the mathematical chores that were once done with pencil and paper. As a result, research penetrates into the secrets of nature with greater speed and accuracy than was previously possible.
Computers have made video games, Web surfing and other forms of leisure possible. Although these pursuits led to the development of whole new industries, they also seduced many people into excessively sedentary habits. Time spent at the computer requires little physical exertion. Because it is common for enthusiasts to play on their computers for hours at a time, long-term consequences can include obesity, poor eating habits, and social isolation.
Family and Leisure Interruptions
Laptop computers and other mobile devices allow many people to work from home or be on call 24 hours a day, making it harder to keep work and home life separate. Work-related duties can interfere with family time at a moment’s notice. The deterioration of boundaries between personal and professional time can strain relationships and make it difficult to relax when you’re never completely away from the office.
Loss of Privacy
The widespread use of personal computers and mobile devices has led to an avalanche of personal data in electronic form, such as contact lists and Facebook posts. Before computers found a place in every home, much of this information was either disorganized or not connected. The Internet’s ease of data gathering combined with deliberate efforts by businesses to exploit personal information has led to a widespread sharing of formerly private data.