By Séveric Yersin |

Sometimes, technology can be overwhelming. 

I once looked around me while working from home. I was surrounded by hi-tech gadgets. Laptop, monitor, smartphone, tablet, e-reader, headphones, wireless devices, and so on: technology was everywhere. I realised that I had operated a turn in recent years, a turn towards a digitalisation of my workplace, without being fully conscious of it.

Everybody talks about the digitalisation of work, but few take a moment to think about what it means. And I came to realise that, sometimes, there’s just too much tech. I’m not talking about its price (and who should pay for it) or about its ecological footprint: I’m referring to our everyday experience with these high-tech devices.

First, there’s the constant reading on a screen. Who takes the trouble to get a book from the library, if it can be downloaded from home? For my part, I realised that this led to at least two negative consequences: I read more efficiently on a screen, but less in depth. I’m looking for keywords, for the main argument, but I tend to scroll down the development faster. This doesn’t mean that I’m not reading a physical book the same way – it means that I’m doing it almost unconsciously. The second negative consequence is that I tend to hoard articles and scanned books in my “literature” folder, an ever-growing list of texts I will never have time to read. The problem here is more subtle: the hoarding in itself isn’t problematic, but that, by saving an article and putting it in a thematic sub-folder (let’s say “Constitutional Change 1848”), I get the feeling that I’ve actually read it.

Second, there’s communication. 2020 was the year of reckless experimentation with new ways of communicating through technology. For some, it meant a real improvement of everyday life. But relying on hi-tech solution to communicate has its downsides, and I’m not the first to point out that this leads to a culture of immediacy. Our lengthy e-mails tend to give way to quickly written notes that look more like instant messaging. The problem here, as we are now all aware, is that we expect an immediate answer from our counterpart. A two-days delay is not acceptable anymore. The same is happening with videocalls: not only are these becoming ever more present and intrusive, but it is now expected that everybody can join an online meeting anytime, from anywhere. 

The list of problems is much longer. Acknowledging these doesn’t imply rejecting technology or resisting change. Technology has obvious advantages, and I wouldn’t know how to work without. But we need to have this conversion. Since March 2020, we’ve been on a fast track towards a fully digitalised world. It’s more than what’s the most optimistic tech-guru ever dreamed of. We need to take time and think about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why.

I advocate for a more conscious usage of technology. Technology is resource and energy intensive. It is expensive. It is exclusive. It changes the way we work, the way we communicate – and this implies that it changes the way we live and think.

Sometimes, we should choose low-tech over hi-tech.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash : find it here.

Séveric Yersin is a PhD candidate at the University of Basel and at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. His research focuses on the History of Public Health in Switzerland between the 19th and 20th Century, in particular on the institutionalisation of the fight against epidemics.