Are we all too reliant on technology?

A couple of news stories that came to my attention in the last week or so, underlined that although modern technology brings many benefits, we may also be depending on it too much.

For instance, the Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) issued a warning that people are at risk of losing their basic map-reading skills and knowledge of how to use a compass. because of a growing dependence on smartphones and satnav devices.

RIN president Roger McKinlay warns that society is being “sedated by software”, and wants schools to teach basic navigation skills to children:

“It is concerning that children are no longer routinely learning at home or school how to do anything more than press ‘search’ buttons on a device to get anywhere.

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“Many cannot read a landscape, an ordnance survey map, or find their way to a destination with just a compass, let alone wonder at the amazing role astronomy plays in establishing a precise location.

“Instead, generations are now growing up utterly dependent on signals and software to find their way around.”

One group that all of us would like to think would be well-versed in navigation are commercial airline pilots. But even they, it seems, can rely heavily on new technology to do their job.

Last week, “several dozen” American Airlines flights were severely disrupted – all because of a buggy iPad app.

The problem arose because of an update pushed out to the JeppView iPad app used by pilots with American Airlines in place of the 16kg (35lb) worth of flight plans, and paper manuals which pilots typically carry.

Switching from a hefty physical kit bag to the iPad app’s electronic version didn’t just save weight for the pilots, it was also claimed to have had economic and environmental benefits.

As American Airlines proudly explained at the roll-out of the iPad app in 2013, the savings on fuel and paper were considerable:

“Removing the kitbag from all of our planes saves a minimum of 400,000 gallons and $1.2 million of fuel annually based on current fuel prices.”

“Additionally, each of the more than 8,000 iPads we have deployed to date replaces more than 3,000 pages of paper previously carried by every active pilot and instructor. Altogether, 24 million pages of paper documents have been eliminated.”

A video released at the time also underlines the benefits of the iPad app to pilots.

American Airlines now using Apple's iPad in all cockpits

It all sounds wonderful, but then something went badly wrong.

According to media reports when the iPad app’s software was updated with a new version of the runway map for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, it conflicted with an existing version of the map on some pilot’s devices.

Without access to flight plans, pilots felt they were left with no option but to not take off, returning to their aircraft passengers to the gate until the problem could be resolved or alternative flights could be arranged.

All this, of course, amid growing concerns about the state of air traffic control network security and fears that hackers could exploit on board Wi-Fi.

Nobody is saying that it’s wrong to take advantage of modern technology to make our lives and work easier, but we must consider what we will do when we become too reliant on gadgets and computers to do the hard work for us, and how we will cope when they are not available to us.

Crutches are all very well, but when they’re taken away from us we all know that falling over is hard to avoid.

What do you think? Do you believe that society is becoming too dependent on technology and losing its ability to think for itself? Leave a comment below with your view.

This article originally appeared on the Optimal Security blog.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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