The digital age has often been dubbed as the ‘Age of Convenience’. If this means that we are supposedly living in the most convenient time in history, then I would have to agree. One could assume this ‘Age of Convenience’ as being the period of time when convenience for customers is the main focus for many businesses and technological innovations. For a number of people, Jeff Bezos (CEO and Founder of Amazon) included, the notion of convenience can be broken down into three aspects:
Having more choice, saving money and saving time.
Using this definition, I would argue that the Age of Convenience started with the Industrial Revolution and may never end.
Technological innovations during the 18th and 19th century revolutionized the production and distribution of all physical goods. The introduction of machinery meant that textiles and other physical products could be mass-produced on a scale never seen before (and for a fraction of the price). The steam train allowed people to move around from place to place to trade goods, services, resources and information. As a result, consumers had more choice and could get the things they needed faster and at a cheaper price – life was more convenient.
However, the recent digital revolution has brought a whole other level of convenience – especially in terms of digital content.
We have become accustomed to a world where you instantly get an answer to any question you may have, watch any film you desire, listen to any song or read any book. These are all essentially forms of data – whether it is images, audio or text. Getting data from one place to another has become an instant (and free) process thanks to the Internet. This means that the cost and time needed for production and distribution have tended to zero.
Now, the challenge is to push the boundaries even further. Companies are trying to utilise the Internet and incorporate modern technology to improve the distribution of physical goods. They are aiming to provide the same instant service as with digital products. Things will never be completely instant as there are physical constraints but companies are already working on innovative ways to make the process as efficient as possible. Whether it is fully automated fulfillment warehouses, where robots pick out your order and package it automatically; or self-driving delivery trucks and drones that deliver packages straight to your door, all without the direct involvement of humans. The successful implementation of such technologies would eliminate human error, increase efficiency, cut down costs and ultimately revolutionize industries.
Right now this may sound like science fiction but every year technology gets better, faster and more reliable. It is only a few years until fully automated delivery becomes widely available. People would be able to live their lives without ever leaving their homes. Everything will be delivered directly to your door and you would have almost universal choice when it comes to shopping online. Some people cannot wait for this new world we are heading towards. Others are skeptical.
It is often the case that big breakthroughs in convenience result in negative impacts further down the line – this is the curse of convenience.
The Industrial Revolution was fueled by non-renewable resources, which has had huge environmental impacts we are now suffering the consequences for. Only recently have we begun to try and correct our mistakes by putting in laws and restrictions on the use of non-renewable resources and investing in greener forms of energy, like solar. Similarly, the mechanisation of various industries throughout the 19th & 20th centuries resulted in mass unemployment, where hundreds of hundreds of thousands of people were left without work.
We are already becoming aware of some of the negative impacts of the Internet and modern technology. The constant availability of content has led people to become addicted to their phones, TVs and games consoles. There is already evidence that screen addiction can have negative impacts, such as depression and obesity. The situation has gotten so out of hand and increasingly wide spread that the most recent iOS update includes a feature that allows you to monitor your screen time in order to track and limit your usage.
In all these cases (and there are many more I haven’t mentioned), we only realise the true consequences years later. We rush into embracing new technology because we can only see the short-term benefits, not the long-term impacts. We are on the verge of another radical change. Artificial Intelligence, self-driving cars, the Internet of Things and many other innovations are all on the brink of becoming commonplace in society. We need to take time to consider the repercussions so we can stop them from happening in the first place instead of trying to fix them after – prevention is better than cure.
Essentially, we do not need to rush. It is more important to ensure we get things right than to get them right now.