From major feats like long-distance communication to smaller accomplishments such as editing a facial blemish from an Instagram photo, we live in an era where digital technology intersects with nearly every aspect of our lives. With each major stride in technological advancements, the world grows closer to relying solely on digital aids. While many innovations, like Wi-Fi or computers, are essential to achieving current standards for success in the world, some forms of technical inventions, like the University of Mississippi's new food delivery robots, are unnecessary.
As of late, the Ole Miss campus has run rampant with six-wheeled, self-driving robots that are about two feet in length and width. These robots transport food orders straight from the restaurant directly to someone's doorstep. They enclose the food in an insulated interior which only opens with a specific code sent straight to a phone. At Ole Miss, the robot is limited to delivering from select, on-campus dining locations. Though this technological feat is tremendous, its purpose is not fulfilling anything other than making people lazier and more reclusive.
According to Liberty Classical Academy, technological reliance diminishes people's face-to-face social interactions. People's ability to actively listen, acknowledge social cues, sustain eye contact, keep a longer attention span and many other social skills taper off with the constant use of technology as a replacement to face-to-face communication. Most interactions occur via email, texts and direct messages and require some form of digitized medium. Now, with robots that deliver directly to your doorstep, customers do not need to worry about greeting the pizza delivery man or the Uber Eats driver. People can now order their food without sharing any sort of human interaction.
Not only do these robots promote the reclusive lifestyle our society has embraced alongside technological innovations, but the Starship robots will also strip people of jobs. George Dvorsky of Gizmodo says by the year 2022, emerging technological inventions will put 75 million jobs out of commission. With the food delivery robots, the need for food delivery service jobs will be obsolete.
I understand the convenience of a food delivery robot on days when you are running late and need to skip the line at Starbucks, but, again, this is a convenience rather than a necessity. As previously mentioned, the modern digital era we live in requires a standard of access to technology in order to attain certain levels of educational and financial success. If a person lacks access to high-speed internet or computers, it makes the task of submitting homework, conducting research or even keeping in contact with professors and co-workers extremely difficult, if not impossible. There is a digital divide in the United States where people live in poverty because of their lack of access to technology which is fundamental for economic success.
According to Pete Smith of the Jackson Free Press and communication professor at Mississippi State University, companies are not legally required to extend their broadband internet services to rural areas. Consequently, one-third of Mississippi residents fall short on technology. While the food delivery robots are not necessarily inhibiting economic success, they are a step closer toward stripping people of both jobs and sufficient social skills.
Where we continue to progress in our seemingly trivial coffee-delivering bots, there are still those who fall short on technological access. It is very important to keep up with the changing technological tides by inventing new waves of technology, but we should equally focus our attention on ensuring everyone has access to the same technology. Where one student in a rural town struggles to find internet access to submit a homework assignment, a college student at Ole Miss waits around for a robot to deliver his or her coffee. Bridging the gap of the digital divide is just as important as inventing new technologies.
For the sake of briefly sounding like a self-important "boomer," I do believe there is validity in the cautiousness and wariness of technology, as it plays such a strong role in our lives. Our generation will control the future, and if we are unable to exercise even the slightest of interpersonal communication skills (i.e. receiving food orders in person rather than by robot), our social skills and anxieties will only continue to enhance as younger generations may grow up not understanding the concept of small social interactions. Where these robots may be useful for certain occasions, we should be wary of establishing them as the norm where they are not necessarily needed.