As part of a recent panel discussion I was asked how technology has improved our lives in general and made us more productive and efficient in particular. I gave my typical response to such a question, responding that the Internet has vastly made our lives better and provided us with a wealth of information at our fingertips that previous generations could not have imagined. I talked about the communication revolution and some of the technology innovations that I cannot believe we ever lived without like GPS, text messaging and Google Search, not to mention the ability to pause live television.
After giving this response I decided that it would only be fair to rattle off a few rants about technology in the 21st century as well. I'm always raving about the latest innovation so I figured I should also present the other side of the coin. I stopped myself after naming four negative characteristics about technology, but I realized I could keep going. So, here are my 10 rants about technology. Do you agree with these and what would you add to the list?
1) Sense of Immediacy - The speed of the Internet has led the youngest generation to expect that everything is immediate. Those of us who came of age before the Internet gained wide acceptance remember having to sit patiently as our 14.4kbps dial-up modems spent an hour loading a web page (and that annoying noise!). Now, we order a pair of pants on Amazon and expect the drone to drop it off on our porch within an hour or two.
2) The 2.0 Factor/Next Big Thing - Just as we get used to our new cellphone, we're being told that it's time to upgrade to the newer model, which is bigger, faster, has more memory and does more tricks. If we're not updating our operating system, we're at the store shopping for the latest, greatest gadget that really isn't much different than what we already have. This isn't just true with devices, but also with everything from applications to social networks. Teens today are the 2.0 generation because they have come to expect everything to have a short shelf life before it is labeled obsolete and requires an upgrade. This can make it difficult to keep up with the growth of technology.
3) Quest for Answers - There was a time when you didn't know something and it took more than a few minutes to locate the answer. There was something to be said about the journey to the public library to search by hand through an actual book that had to be located on an actual shelf. Today, as soon as curiosity sets in we're searching on Google or asking our trusted friend Siri for the answer. In the 21st century, it isn't about how much knowledge you have, but whether you know how to search quickly for the accurate information.
4) Lack of Human Interaction - It goes without saying that this is one of the biggest drawbacks to the Digital Age. Being able to Skype with cousins in Australia is truly a modern wonder, but watching as our children sit in the back of the Minivan texting each other is just sad. When FaceTime is considered a play date and colleagues choose to use Google Chat rather than walk down the hall for a face-to-face conversation, we need to press the "reset" button. I'm grateful for our modern communications capabilities, but we cannot allow it to replace the power of real life human engagement.
5) Voicemail and Batteries - There are certain technologies that have run their course. When enough of society adapts to a better technology, we have to retire the antiquated one. This means a universal understanding that FAX machines and voicemail are from a bygone era. I have a vein in my forehead that manifests itself every time someone asks for my FAX number so they can send me a document or leaves a lengthy voicemail message that could have been a one-sentence text message. My loudest technology rant comes when I have to change those double-A batteries in a remote control. My kids' Xbox has the most intricate, impressive graphics imaginable and yet Microsoft can't seem to find a way to power the remote controls beyond the same two batteries we were using in the 1950s. It's amazing RadioShack went bankrupt this year; you'd think they could keep things running by just selling batteries. Adaption is difficult, but we'll all be the better for it.
6) Evil Usage - I've always loved Google's mantra: "Don't Be Evil," but it's too bad the rest of the world doesn't practice it. There are certain aspects of modern technology that lend itself to scam artists. There were hoaxes and cons long before the Internet, but there has undoubtedly been much growth in this arena thanks to the ability for these criminals to remain anonymous and reach across geographical borders. Our technology experience would be so much better if we didn't need Snopes.com to invalidate hoaxes, anti-virus software and secure certificates to protect us from scammers and spammers, software to keep our kids from seeing things they shouldn't, filters to keep us from clicking through annoying click bait links, and campaigns to educate us about the malevolence of cyber bullying. In this same category I would add the immorality that exists in the comments sections of websites, social networks, blogs and online videos. If you're interested in learning about racial epithets, anti-Semitism, homophobia and the most convoluted, paranoid conspiracy theories, then look no further than the anonymous comments on the Web.
7) Bad GUI - You might not be familiar with the term GUI, but you'd know it when you see it. It stands for Graphical User Interface and it's the way we interact with computers. Some GUIs have improved well over time like the simplicity of the interface in our car's dashboard or the your smartphone's operating system. My rant is with technology like our Cable TV interface, which is slow, annoyingly simplistic and not intuitive. We've all come to appreciate having 1,000 cable channels, video on demand and a DVR to record our shows. Is it too much to ask to be able to control this mechanism with ease and efficiency?
8) Misinformation - While it's wonderful we no longer need to keep heavy volumes of the encyclopedia on our bookshelves anymore, it was nice having a source of information that could be trusted. There is so much misinformation on the Web that it's sometimes easier to not even try to sift through the bad to find the good. Wikipedia can be a wonderful resource, but there is also a lot of unreliable and inaccurate information on the Web that gets replicated. News sources can be found online to back up any ridiculous argument or to refute a fact someone else makes. Be careful out there in Internet land and verify all information to the extent possible.
9) The Internet's Too Big - Search engines like Google have actually done a great job of indexing the Web and making it much easier to find the right sources quickly. However, the indexed Web contains over 4.58 billion pages and that makes it very difficult to monitor or control. Anything and everything can be found online. That is both good and bad. As we progress into the future, international consortiums will have to figure out ways to keep the sheer size of the Web from overwhelming us. Net Neutrality Laws are already challenging us to think about how to govern Internet traffic and other issues like graphic content censorship, trademark protection, identity theft, and illegal commerce will also have to be addressed in coming years.
10) Over-Connected - We have all come to depend on our technology and find it difficult to detach ourselves from our phones and tablets. We're adding new technology like smart watches and other wearables that will keep us tethered at all times. We wake in the morning and check our FitBit to see how we slept right before grabbing our phone to see who sent messages in the middle of the night. We check our technology numerous times at the wrong times -- while driving and dining, at our kid's recital, in synagogue, and in the middle of a movie. Studies have even shown that couples cannot put their phone away during intimate moments in bed. If we truly lack the ability to unplug, then we have become slaves to technology and that is a severe problem. Sometimes, a wonky WiFi connection can be our greatest gift.
I love technology, but it's not without its problems. As we proceed on our journey through the Digital Age there will be setbacks, growing pains and times that call for rants in addition to raves.
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