Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Paradox of Technology

I suspect that we all know of people who long for the simpler days of old.  Perhaps you are old enough to remember when a family had one telephone available to them, it was plugged into the wall, had a long curly cord, and you might have used it once or twice a day.  Now we have a phone, actually a super computer, in our pockets with us 24x7 and we interact with others possibly 100’s, for some maybe 1000’s, of times a day.  We try to keep up with the flows of our Facebook flickr - langwitches - Learning then and Nowcommunity, Twitter streams, Text messages, phone calls, Face Times, email messages, SnapChats, Pins, Skypes, etc.  It is overwhelming isn’t it.  Oh for the good ol’ days of the one phone, you know the one where you ‘dialed’ the number and hated numbers with “0” in them.  You know, when you had to wait when the party line was on a call. 

That may be a simplistic example but with all our technological advancements there are benefits and consequences.  For those of us on this planet who have been fortunate to enjoy these advancements, I believe overall, our lives are better off.  Technology has not overwhelmed us or made live unbearable as some might have us believe.  Rather, we have overwhelmed us by allowing our technology to control us when it should be the other way around.  Why do some of us like to blame the accessibility technology creates for us, as the reason we are stressed out?  Technology is meant to make life simpler, reduce our workloads, make it easier to communicate, make us more efficient, give us time back, create new opportunities, etc.  If so, what are we doing wrong ‘cause that’s not what a lot of people seem to experience. 

Think about how much time we spend hunting and gathering relative to our ancestors or to those in poorer countries without the benefits of technology.  Think about how much leisure time you have.  Sure you might think you have very little but that may be just how you allocate your time to your kids, spouse, or how you let your work consume you.  Maybe you are addicted to Facebook or other online 20140730_165352917_iOSspaces.  Technology certainly plays a role in enabling us to do more, communicate more, and consume more (information) but it is really our choice in how balanced or imbalanced we become with our technology use.  Get outdoors and use your tech to capture and share the beauty of our environment!

This summer I decided to take a Facebook holiday for 3 weeks.  I didn’t check my feeds, ‘like’ any posts, or share the wonderful things I was up to.  I was kind-of getting tired of feeling the need to stay tuned into the lives of those I’ve friended.  It was great to take a break.  I often do the same with Twitter, email, and other communication tools.  What I can’t see myself giving up though are all the other tools that help me find places, discover recipes, read or listen to books, listen to music, write out my thoughts and notes, arrange events, research and plan trips, track budgets and expenditures, pay bills, etc.  I remember when Shelley and I first got married.  I got the job of dealing with the finances… I used a paper log to track our bills, their amount, due date, etc. and would refer to it so I knew when to write the cheques and get them into envelopes with stamps and off to the mailbox.  I reconciled our cheque book using a hand calculator and piece of paper.  I used to have to deposit our pay-cheques by driving to the bank and waiting in a line.  It was painful and tedious.  Now almost all of our bills are automatically paid, pay-cheques are deposited automatically, other bills are paid online on a specified date via the bank website.  Recently I have been able to deposit cheques via my phone by taking a picture – it goes into our account immediately.  I use a spreadsheet to track our budget and expenses and to reconcile our cheque book and it takes minutes to do.  This is way better than the pre-technology era.

I was mountain biking yesterday with a friend and we got to talking about buying bike parts.  I’ve always bought at local shops but he got me thinking about how much markup there is and how much I could save buying online.  I said I needed a new front bike tire soon and he said lets combine an order – we’ll get free shipping to Canada from the UK for an order over $99.  I asked him what sites he uses and later he texted me the web addresses when I plugged into my computer browser to search out the tires (tyres in the UK) I wanted.  I found them, emailed him the link and he put in the order.  The tire cost nearly 1/3 what I paid in a local shop!  How simple is that and how cool to save that much on the cost?  I like shopping local, to support the local economy, but when prices are marked up that much, using technology saves me money and time.

Play Blocks With LettersSo what’s my point you ask.  I think the advancement of technology has created huge opportunities and benefits but also has caused great difficulties for some people to manage their lives.  It makes it hard to be and feel balanced.  Technology is agnostic, it is neither good nor evil so let’s not blame the technology, rather let’s be more thoughtful about how we take charge of our time, our behaviors, and priorities.  Use technology to its fullest to make your life better.  Let’s teach and help each other maximize our use of our technology while maximizing the quality of our lives.  Learn to be the boss of your tech and leverage its power for the better! [image: © iStockPhoto #000008477174]

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Should It Be Created?

I recently watched the movie Transcendence (see trailer).  Having read Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near a few years ago, I thought it would be cool to see a movie roughly based on similar Stream of digital data and eyeideas.  Note… I found the book to be interesting but disturbing, likewise the movie.  There is an internal drive within some people to pursue inventions for the sake of the science.  Unfortunately, there are consequences to new inventions that go along with the perceived benefits.  As new seemingly miraculous inventions are conceived, we should be more vigilante about asking “why”.  Why should we even try to upload a human brain or any brain, into a machine?  Why should we try to ‘live eternally’ within a machine as a digital existence?  There are scientists like Ray Kurzweil who believe it is possible and that the capability should be invented.  But should it? 

Okay, back to earth… I personally don’t believe it is possible to transcend our human existence into a digital one nor do I think that it would ever be an appropriate outcome if it were possible.  But what about some of the more recent creations or ones in the works?  I continue to be amazed at the game changer our SmartPhones have become.  The other day I went on a hike with my (adult) kids up the Lions near Vancouver, BC.  I used the Strava app on my iPhone to record the hike (see Strava hike) 20140730_185433558_iOSwhich I uploaded to my Strava network and to Facebook once we were done.  I took ample photos with the phone’s camera which I uploaded to share on Facebook, creating conversations and giving people I’m connected to a glimpse into our day in the mountains.  If an emergency occurred, I could call for help.  Just a short 10 years ago, none of this was possible out in the deep woods.  I would have had a flip phone that might have a cell signal, a handheld (large) GPS tracker, a bulky camera, and sharing any of this information would not be quick and nor easy.  The SmartPhone is a great invention for sure.  But, there are all sorts of ‘evil’ uses for predators, criminal activities, remote detonators, etc.  We have learned to accept these consequences along with the benefits.  But did we consider the consequences before the SmartPhone was invented and ‘allowed’ on the market?

What about the current hype around quad copters?  These are pretty cool tools and useful for surveillance, surveying, and playing pranks I’m sure.  Amazon is pursing the use of these tools for same day delivery of online orders in some cities.  I’ve read about these being flown into fireworks displays creating safety concerns for people below and near airports causing concern for airport traffic, etc.  These tools could be used for inappropriate video and picture recording and privacy violations.  What consideration was given to the dangerous and inappropriate uses before these were invented and made available to the public?

There is an explosion of innovation in the medical uses of technology.  It probably won’t be long before prosthetic limbs are indistinguishable from the original.  Innovative ways of delivering drug therapy to target cells is emerging.  One day there may be nanobots available, small ‘machines’ designed to seek out say cancer cells and repair them, or perhaps designed to improve our memory, eye sight, hearing, muscle strength, intelligence…  Would this be bad?  I for one would welcome anything that improves my memory and intelligence!  But, what are the consequences?  Should this be invented?

Hopefully young people flowing through our education system are being exposed to ethical learning scenarios and dilemmas.  Future iStock_000023020317Mediumscientists are in our grade one classes today and they need to learn to question innovations and inventions and learn to have the wisdom and strength to know when to appose them versus pursue them.  With how fast things are changing through new inventions being created, this should be a growing area of importance and concern where we are learning to ask ‘Should it be created?’.