Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Pondering Digital

In the year I was born, it was the first time the word “technology” appeared in a State of the Union address. It was not something anybody ever talked about when I was growing up. I guess my introduction to the idea of computers came in my early teens when the television series Star Trek debuted and with the national attention given to the space program from the late 50's through the 1960's, and of course with NASA putting men on the moon before I was out of high school. It was all very interesting and exciting, but I had this deep down sense that things were going to be different in the future and that machines were going to play a much larger role.

Technology, if viewed as a non-living product of the creative mind, has always been with us. From the fork we eat with to the table we eat on; from the shoes we wear to the football we kick... these can all be considered technology. What has changed recently is that technology has become something more than just useful into something that is becoming increasingly closer to how we identify ourselves. We now find ourselves asking who we are in relation to the technology in our lives, and who we want to be.

It is becoming increasingly evident that we need to reckon with the moral force of our technological creations, and also question how we may best manage our unfolding lives with technology. Most of what we now look at as indispensable to function in the modern world is less than ten years old. For most of this technology it may be too soon to draw a conclusion about its continuing value. As we learn more about the impact of social media, people will likely become more selective in their use of it. I personally waver in my use of Face Book and have as of yet found no essential use for a smart phone or Twitter.

I wonder how we will look back upon these early times of the Internet and the large players that have emerged. How will Google, Face Book, and Amazon evolve over the next generation of users? These new giant companies with their unimaginable new-found wealth and influence have entered uncharted territory in which they find themselves with power not much different than that of national governments. They may have two billion customers across every continent who they now must view in many regards as “citizens” of a unique world that they themselves have created. Corporations have never had to deal with anything like this before. One cannot fault them, however, because they are really just making it up as they go. Corporations are going to have to evolve to assume more responsibility for creating standards and practices and expectations for the greater good of its citizenry across all borders. The divided world of nation-states is ever so gradually being supplanted by a world of information without borders.

If this has all happened in the span of less than one life time, what can we expect in the next 10, 20, or 50 years? These are, indeed, even more interesting and exciting times than when it all began when I was a boy.

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