Sunday, October 7, 2012

Technology, For Better or For Worse...

So it's taken a while, but I'm going to start posting.  And I've decided to start off on a non-technical topic for this, a technical blog.  Before going into making posts on how to use technology, I'd like to try to get people to THINK about technology.  More specifically...what technology means for society...past and present.  Good and bad.  For better or for worse...

Good...I haven't lost you.  Glad you're still reading.

Most people in today's world use the phrase "technology" to define anything electronic...something that runs on batteries or plugs in and has some sort of electronic circuit.  For example, a flat-screen TV, a Blu-ray player, or a TiVo.  However, technology is much broader then that.  Technology has almost always existed.  In the middle ages, when skilled laborers and apprentices made metal objects by hand in a blacksmith shop, they would have called the hardening process of metal a "technology".  Technology simply means "the branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science." (  When I was at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), one of my professors said "technology is using a process to create or provide something new".  I argue that statement better defines "innovation" or "creation".  I like to just think of "technology" as a process we use to do something.  For example, the blacksmith that made a steel knife used a technology called "hardening" to make the knife more durable.  Keep this simple definition of "technology" in mind as we go forward.

Now that we have a common basis for discussion, I'll drop my bomb: modern technology has seriously damaged society, possibly in an irreparable manor.  Think about various technologies that have developed over the last century, how they've progressed, and what they've done to our society.  Let's start with something as simple as a cell phone.

I own a Motorola Droid Bionic, which for those who are unaware, is a smartphone that operates on Verizon's 4G cell network and runs Google Android.  I carry my phone almost everywhere I go.  I'm always in contact with the rest of the world, and the rest of the world can always contact me.  For better or worse.  My wife and I use a grocery list app on each of our phones that lets us share the grocery lists, so who ever goes to the store next knows what to get.  Clearly that's "better", right?  And let's not forget the almost required navigation feature, that allows me to simply speak to my phone "navigate to the Melting Pot in Roswell Georgia".  Nothing is "better" then that.

I now have to carry this phone with me every where I go.  It catches on my seat belt in my truck.  The battery only lasts about 7 hours before I have to find a place to plug it in.  If I go away for a weekend, I have to bring a charger with me for my phone (not to mention my Apple iPod, iPad, laptop, and Bluetooth headset).  That's not exactly "better".  My phone can ring any time, day or night, for my job...on vacation or not.  I cannot get away from anyone.  That's clearly a mark in the "worse" column.  There's a whole generation of people that have never seen a book of maps that people used to keep in the backseat of their cars, and don't know why there's a compass in the dashboard of cars.  These people would have no idea on how to get from San Francisco to New York without the help of their GPS.  That's "worse".

There are questions of cell phone radiation being harmful to brain tissue, leading to brain cancer.  There are arguments both ways on those theories.  But there are no questions that the brain needs to be exercised, just like any other part of the body (that we all ignore by thinking "it's just one more caramel turtle.  I'll work it out at the gym"...then never go).  Looking back into history, people used to exercise their brains a lot more then they do now.  No matter how subtle the exercise, any exercise is better then no exercise.  Consider the simple concept of driving directions...getting from point A to point B.  It uses the mind to logically find the shortest path between two points, taking into account variables like the size of the road, potential traffic near metropolitan areas, etc.  But this exercise improves logic every time you do it.  And if you got lost or hit a problem, you had to take the map back out and find another way.  That's exercising your problem solving skills.

The point of saying all of this is to simply point out that technology isn't always a good.  It's almost always helpful (for example, technology that's used to make weapons of mass destruction isn't exactly helpful).  One of the things we have to remember as technologists is to always consider the ramifications of what we're least to the extent we can.  Sure, you can roll out a big Microsoft Exchange server at an organization of 5 people, but are all the costs (monetary, time, and social) worth it?

The next article will be more IT related...I promise... :)

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