Whether it's using PayPal instead of cash, checking your iPhone constantly for emails, or using a Fitbit to track your steps, technologies have pervaded our daily lives in the last few decades and completely changed how we live. But is it all for the good?
A new BBC series, co-produced by The Open University, investigates how our world has been changed by people we've never heard of, transforming aspects of life without us even realising it. Billion Dollar Deals and How They Changed Your World, a three-part series presented by investigative journalist and broadcaster Jacques Peretti, begins on Wednesday 27 September, BBC2 at 8pm.
Is technology always good?
Academic experts at The Open University Dr Liz McFall, senior lecturer in sociology, and Dr Rajiv Prabhakar, lecturer in personal finance, were involved in the making of the series, and question whether pervasive technology is always a good thing. Dr Prabhakar says:
"The philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed an 'all seeing prison' during the eighteenth century where prisoners could be seen at all times. This series asks if technology companies are trying to do something similar, creating a modern dystopia that uses technology to track all of our actions in health, work and money. But technology might also be used to subvert control.
How big business medicated modern life
In Episode One, health is focused on, questioning how modern life got medicated. In the late seventies, Henry Gadsden, the Chief Executive of a large pharmaceutical company told a business magazine that the industry had a problem. In treating disease, they were limiting their client base. But by reinventing illness, treating the well and making the taking of prescription drugs as everyday as chewing a stick of gum, they could medicate modern life itself.
From ADHD in children to the way GP’s diagnose depression in adults, the series looks at the deals that have transformed the way we talk about and treat mental health. But what has been their real legacy? Jacques investigates the deals struck between health professionals and pharmaceutical companies and questions whether Gadsden’s dream to medicate modern life has finally been realised.
A cashless society
In 2015, for the first time in history, cash payments were overtaken by card and contactless transactions. But why are we turning our backs on cash? And what are we replacing it with? In episode two, Jacques explores the deals which have shaped the way we understand money.
From the invention of Paypal in the nineties to the smartphone app economy that followed ten years later, this film tells the story of how tech giants brought about the digital payment revolution and formulated a plan to one day kill cash. But is this new world of digital, hyper-fast spending in our interests? And what is really going on behind the scenes?
The 'always on' work culture
How did we go from clocking on and off to checking our work email in the middle of the night and working four jobs simultaneously? How did work go from being what we do to who we are?
From the creation of shared values in the workplace in the 1980’s to the deal that ushered in inflated executive pay and zero job security, Jacques reveals in episode three how key decisions over the past decades have revolutionised the workplace and our perception of work itself.
He also looks at automation in the workplace. But will the age of the robot make our working lives easier, or make us redundant as a species?
What do you know about technology?
OpenLearn has further content in connection with the series’ subject areas, including an interactive quiz “What do you know about Technology” challenging your assumptions of it in today’s society.
- Commissioned by: Dr Caroline Ogilvie, Head of Broadcast & Partnerships
- Academic Consultants: Dr Liz McFall and Dr Rajiv Prabhakar
- Media Fellows: Sue Hemmings & Chris Williams
- Broadcast Project Manager: Amie Nimmo
- Online Project Producer: Matthew Culnane and Freyja Taylor-Law