Technology can have hidden consequences

Technology is fascinating because it has become so advanced that it often feels nearly indistinguishable from magic. Modern technologies have helped humans cure diseases, fly across the planet, provide instant access to nearly infinite information online, and allows us to study in university during a global pandemic. While technology is often described synonymously with human development, it has also brought a lot of new problems that should not be overlooked or free from criticism. Modern technologies (from urban landscapes to social media) have been overwhelmingly destructive for the environment, problematic for people’s mental health, has increased inequality, and produced more waste than the earth can handle. Humans should continue to research, build, and explore, but it should be done with increased empathy, caution, and mindfulness. Every new technology has the potential to bring new, unintended negative consequences. If we fail to recognize that new technologies and developments come with unforeseen consequences, and we fail to take these problems into serious consideration, then we risk creating a destructive future that we cannot return from.

Social Media and Instagram
Figure 1: Social Media

Amidst a global pandemic that has affected nearly every person in every region of the earth, we have been forced to stay indoors, education has moved online, and oftentimes, connecting with friends and family has only become possible through social media. Social media has allowed us to stay connected through video calls, text messages, photos, and other mediums. This can be done regardless of whether a person lives thousands of miles away. While this is a great benefit of social media, it has also brought a lot of new, unanticipated consequences. Over the past decade, as social media use has increased, reports of mental health problems have also increased dramatically. Addiction to social media, depression, and feelings of low self-esteem have all become heavily correlated with the increased use of social media (Sharma, John, Sahu, 2020). As humans continue to value the ability to connect with friends and family digitally, we should remain equally aware of the new problems that social media brings.

Civic Center in San Francisco
Figure 2: Civic Center

San Francisco is an intriguing place for anyone who has visited. The Civic Center is located in downtown San Francisco next to several large technology companies (including Twitter headquarters, and Dolby Laboratories). Within a few blocks of the Civic Center, we can find some of the largest and most apparent wealth inequalities in the US. While people inside the Twitter building enjoy free food, dual-monitors, heating, 100k+ salaries, and fancy clothes, right outside of the building there are dozens of homeless people living on the streets and in tents, often begging for change. Over the past several years, Twitter has started to pay private security to demand that homeless people leave the sidewalk. It is mind-blowing that such transparent inequality can exist today with such little action or conversation on how to improve the situation. A single person working for Twitter to move pixels on a screen makes significantly more money and lives with many more luxuries than an entire group of people living right outside of their front door.

Macbook Air Laptop
Figure 3: Laptop

Technology has also been very destructive for the environment. Producing a single laptop requires mining for minerals and resources (such as cobalt) in foreign countries, which is often performed by children and child slaves. Mining for various resources requires the earth to be destroyed, causes serious pollution, and destruction of the natural ecosystem. Pollution from mining in different regions of Africa has caused severe health problems and population decline both in humans, fish, plants, and other animals (Fayiga, Ipinmoroti, Chirenje, 2018). When we look at a brand new Macbook, we often admire its beauty and consider it a piece of functional art. However, missing from the image, is the destruction of the natural environment, displacement of humans, severe pollution, and sometimes even child slaves. There is a story behind every piece of technology, and oftentimes, these sad and lost stories belong to people far away and far removed from the people enjoying the comforts of a new laptop.

Waste and Recycling
Figure 4: Waste and Recycling

In addition to mining for resources required to build new technologies, packaging also has negative impacts on the environment. With every new piece of technology sold, more trees are being cut down, more wood being processed, more plastic being produced, and more waste being piled up and entering the oceans. For nearly every product purchased in Walmart, or order conveniently placed on Amazon, there is more unnecessary waste and destruction of the environment to serve consumption. Single-use plastics are common with most purchases, and the only alternatives in many ‘developed’ countries are often paper alternatives. Rather than appreciating the conveniences of plastic packaging and cardboard boxes full of new products arriving with convenient shipping times, we should focus more on building new sustainable packaging alternatives.

Construction by the Ocean
Figure 5: Construction

Lack of green space and population density is also a problem in many cities and urban environments. Not only has green space and nature been removed from many urban settings to support increased population growth, but the nature that has been left faces its own problems including pollution and loss of biodiversity. Humans are not immune to the problems that arise from population density either. Andrade and colleagues found that people living in the highly populated city of Sau Paulo had a significant risk to develop a mental disorder at some point in the last twelve months. These mental disorders were highly correlated with increased exposure to crime, which is often much higher in cities. In addition, living in an urban environment was correlated with increased social withdrawal and substance abuse (Andrade, Wang, Andreoni, Silveira, Alexandrino-Silva, Siu, Nishimura, Anthony, Gattaz, Kessler, Viana, 2012).

Among Us Video Game Addiction
Figure 6: Video Game

Video game addiction is very prevalent, especially among male youth. As technology has continued to advance, video games have also become even more addicting. Enormous amounts of research has been put into creating games that offer a specific amount of randomness, stimuli, and rewards to keep users active, addicted, and online. Unfortunately, video game addiction has led to mental health decline and increased risk of developing depression and anxiety. Additionally, video game addiction is highly correlated with anti-social behaviors, and social isolation. (Stockdale, Coyne, 2018)

While modern technology offers many conveniences and comforts, it has also brought a lot of new problems that humans have never experienced before. Widespread mental health problems, mass inequality, environmental destruction, and excessive waste affect people from every part of the world. It’s easy to look at different technologies in isolation, and to negate their negative impacts because of their tremendous benefits, however, when these problems become irreversible, then we will have permanently changed our planet and our human culture in ways that we may not desire.


Sharma, Manoj Kumar, John, Nisha and Sahu, Maya. (2020). “Influence of social media on mental health: a systematic review”. Current opinion in psychiatry. 33(5): 467-475.

Fayiga, Abioye, Ipinmoroti, Mabel and Chirenje, Tait. (2018). “Environmental pollution in Africa”. Environment, development and sustainability. 33(1): 41-73.

Andrade, Laura Helena, Wang, Yuan-Pang, Andreoni, Solange, Magalhães Silveira, Camila, Alexandrino-Silva, Clovis, Rosanna Siu, Erica, Nishimura, Raphael, Anthony, James C, Gattaz, Wagner Farid, Kessler, Ronald C, Viana, Maria Carmen. (2012). “Mental disorders in megacities: findings from the São Paulo megacity mental health survey, Brazil.” PLoS one. 7(2): 1-11

Stockdale, Laura and Coyne, Sarah M. (2018). “Video game addiction in emerging adulthood: Cross-sectional evidence of pathology in video game addicts as compared to matched healthy controls”. Journal of affective disorders, 225: 265-272.


For my photo essay, I explore how new technologies and developments have unintended negative consequences. While technology is often thought of synonymously with human development, it is rarely questioned as a large source of problems. I chose social media in my abstract to illustrate this problem because it is easy to relate to, and becoming increasingly criticized in the mainstream. Social media is just one of many technologies that provides enormous benefits, but also brings a lot new problems that are beginning to appear larger and more serious than we ever conceived. Another example that I included in my paper is how laptops are created. In order to build an elegant Macbook that many people appreciate and view as art, it requires the mining and destruction of the natural environment overseas (specifically in Africa in this case). Sadly, the people who live in these destroyed environments are also rarely the people who also get to enjoy these new technologies.

What do Functionalists think about Artificial Intelligence?

Functionalists argue that mass media embodies and exemplifies our values, ideals, and beliefs while serving four primary functions within society. Functionalists would explain artificial intelligence as a technology that is based upon and amplifies its creators’ values to accomplish different tasks. Artificial intelligence works in tandem with humans, learning from our values, the ways we program it, and interact with it, to solve the goals that we ask for. Eventually, artificial intelligence may advocate its own goals. Functionalists would argue that artificial intelligence serves four primary functions in unique ways to fill human desires within society. The socialization function refers to the role of passing on values, beliefs and traditions through generations. Artificial intelligence would support this function because it is already trained and contains the values, beliefs and traditions that we have instructed it to learn (whether consciously or not). Further, every action and decision of artificial intelligence is a reflection of the values and beliefs of itself (and therefore its creators). Counter to popular opinion that artificial intelligence can think for itself, it must first learn through its creators and therefore take on some of its values. Effectively, like a human child, artificial intelligence is first socialized through its creators, carries out those values in its decisions, and will further amplify these values and pass them on through every decision that it makes. Secondly, artificial intelligence will conform to the surveillance function, which refers to the role of gathering and distributing data to people. Artificial intelligence is already doing this and will get even better at this because it works by gathering large amounts of data, finding patterns within that data and then making decisions. This is one of the areas it will excel the most. For example, it can gather data on a person from their social media and habits on the internet to determine a person’s desires, interests and what they might be willing to purchase. Further, it can find similarities across large populations of people and figure out how to best provide engaging information (or propagandize). Breaches of data will be an enormous problem for artificial intelligence because it also creates a honey pot for hackers to discover and access confidential information. The correlation function refers to the role of media in filtering and clarifying information so that it can easily be consumed by the general public. Artificial intelligence will serve the correlation function because it can easily synthesize data. Lastly, it serves the function of entertainment because it can be used to enhance all forms of entertainment including art, music and TV shows. A primary use case being shared in the video was artificial intelligence’s influence on the music industry. It can even create its own songs that reflect the artists that programmed it. Artificial intelligence will be great for entertainment because it can find patterns among popular songs and videos, highlight what makes those special, and create similar but unique content. I believe that while artificial intelligence is meant to serve and enhance all humans, it will inevitably reflect the values of its creators. I am very concerned about its potential to further amplify cultural, gender, and racial values (and possibly even go unnoticed). I believe that programmers and creators need to be especially aware of their values, narratives, ideas about the world, and differences among people (whether race, gender, socioeconomic or culturally related) because otherwise, we risk artificial intelligence furthering western, white values (who make up the majority of people in the field). It is similar to raising a child, only with artificial intelligence, we don’t know what the potential impacts may be. Beyond this, even the desire for technology to be so connected with humans, to enhance our nature, and the various use cases for artificial intelligence stems predominantly from a western culture that constantly desires more and assumes we are not good enough. I am concerned that artificial intelligence may play an even stronger role in reinforcing white western values across the world. I am not convinced that this is necessarily a good thing.