What do we do about technology, privacy, security, begin connected but being at peace? Several voices have said that we are diminishing our ability to live in peace and quiet as an option. Other voices contend, that we are losing our freedom of choice because technology limits our freedom. Many have been embarrassed by unwanted leaks of compromising photos and conversations in social media. A few have expressed great skepticism. We are in the new times and it is a nightmare for some. It may be part of the collective identity. Let us not forget that technology does wonderful things in terms of instant communication, clean information, and vast number of capabilities unavailable in the past. What do we do about technology especially, as some has stated, the Internet may disappear?
A Personal Journey into the Info-Tech Era
I come from the transition generation. As young people, my generation lived in a society absent of mass computerization and Internet but were also still young enough to usher on the future when mass computerization and the Internet started to become more present. We are between and do not have the instinct to take technology for granted. The futurism of my youth was a compelling vision for why technology should move forward. The experiences of living without it serves as a reminder that it is not the only way forward.
Since I was not born into a world of technology, I sometimes thought about what my life was like before mass computerization and the Internet? Like anything, that cannot be fully disclosed in writing since our lives are more dynamic, detailed, and nuanced than what the written word can contain. As it is, I have to relate parts of my life to common definitions. Before mass-compute, I grew up greatly influenced in the classic humanities.
For lack of a better word, I was heavily engrossed in arts, language, philosophy, antiquities, and various handcrafts. That was my essential nature. Of those, I was quite involved in artistic expression. Drawing, illustration (those are two separate things); painting; and calligraphy. I studied many of the books of the Encyclopedia Britannica at home and spent many years at the public library. Most of what I read at the library was classic literature. I have forgotten most of it, but it helped shape how I was growing up. Eventually, I got into woodcraft, metals, and various materials attempting to create model buildings, vehicles, and aircraft on my way to a flirtation with architecture as a consequence of learning mechanical drafting.
I studied some art history, was taught art criticism, and exposed to many ideas of antiquity and traditionalism. None of that what I said is the whole of what my existence was then, but it was a major part. Although I did not find those things as compelling as I might today, I was actively engaged with those subjects. I took them for granted. It was natural to me. Something else was too.
While I was on a journey involving fine art, philosophy, inquiry, and living in a world in which you walked down the street and many streets to get somewhere, met other people in other neighborhoods, and socially interacted with people in their homes or different venues, I had other interests. I was quite taken to futuristic depictions from science fiction. It was amazing what people might do through technology to create new experiences and enhance the way people live. As technology become more present, I delved in it more and gradually decided it was a more practical way to express ideas.
Today’s World Leading into Tomorrow
We live in a far different time now in terms of technology compared to those who came before. As a society we have expressed many ideas around social relationships, the value of information, and the importance of the natural world versus technology. While there was a time, you could sit outside and there was never a record of you sitting in a certain place, now, your simplest act of introspection may be available for scrutiny.
When the breeze of spring comes upon your face, you could stand there quietly pondering the beauty of nature, the profundity of existence and gain a moment of uplifting inspiration. Or, in that moment, end that train of thought as you consider that expressing yourself with such vulnerability and slumped poise may be misinterpreted in the data stream emanating off a smart sidewalk connected to data node network access points meshed upon trees and transmitted to your smart home. Perhaps that moment shows up on a social network or in the wearable computing feed of others. You lost a private moment and millions of others to progress.
A more critical analysis of today’s world leading into tomorrow is possible. Others have and will continue to present a case. As I stated in other posts, I am less about complaints than solutions.
The Internet of Things and Hyper Connected Life
Understand that I am optimistic about technology. A few years ago, I shared a vision of technology and living that sounds similar to the Internet of Things. The problems with the Internet of Things relates to a seldom addressed pattern in the intersection of technology and society.
The compartmentalization and homogenization of people as a consequence of an educational system that fails to develop the total person due to the feedback effects of commerce into policy. Technology is not the cause but amplifies these effects in such a way as to greatly reduce the experience of life in a total sense. The urges, urgencies, and inquiries of people are fully drawn away from places and processes that could address them in a healthy way towards zones of industrial production that rewards immediate resolution of these needs but through mechanisms that are not a holistic, healthy, substantive replacement for the real thing.
The Internet of Things would exacerbate that reality. I do seek to prove it. I draw the conclusion from the fact that since the Internet of Things is based on the same system of technology (computerized networks, processors, and storage) that the effects of that technology today would carry forward into the future but at a larger scale. The futuristic optimist in me wants to see something greater, in my lifetime no less, but the direction I have heard about the Internet of Things does not sound well-conceived.
An Alternative – Part 1
As I said, I am about solutions. The first solution is actually the hardest of all. We have to change our thinking about technology, the future, and what it means to live. Other questions concerns our priorities. Do we want things, or do we want meaning as one question? Are real relationships valuable? The primary question that decides the future, “What does it mean to live”?
An Alternative – Part 2
What does it mean to live? A more brilliant mind than I can answer that question more definitively. We can start with some suggestions that such an answer might encompass. Living involves recognizing that each of us is part of nature. The universe is the broad canopy of that nature that continues down to the piece of ground we are born on, walk on, and gain the basic nutrients we use to continue the body. The air we breath, the water we drink (even mixed in to create other drinks), and the presence of other parts of nature are precious both to our lives and to our natural sense of balance.
Many reasons may exist for us to stay indoors and live a virtual existence connected to desks, chairs, carpeting, wood flooring, lamps, windows, electronics, sanitation systems, and refrigerators. We can sustain existence indoors, through automotive transport, and moving from one building to the next as we take a brief tour through parts of nature paved with smoothed stone. Despite people’s apparent independence from nature, the raw materials of food, drink, medicine, clothing and shelter originates from outside. Living indoors is okay but should not be mistakenly seen as the totality of existence.
Part of what it means to live is to improve ourselves. We cannot do that in a narrow way, but in a broad way. We may specialize in certain mechanical and/or cognitive activities, but those will remain just one aspect of our total selves. Improving nature is part of improving ourselves. A prosperous natural world supports the prosperity of people. That continues with improving relationships with others since the development of meaning between people is a vital element of mental and emotional prosperity.
An Alternative – Quality Living
The alternative view is not individualism to the extreme nor is it excessive crowd sourcing. The wrong technological agenda involves aligning society to the nature of computer networks and the idea of social transformation through modeling society and life in computer systems based on the idea of enhancing the model enhances the world. That exchanges economic austerity with one that greatly narrows the meaning of life.
The right decision is to define technology that improves some aspect of a person’s nature and experience of life. We need more trees, more life. Could technology become a way to foster the prosperity of nature rather than deplete it? People may understand more knowledge, and gain better contextual understanding of what they read, hear, and encounter with the aid of technology. Probably not through augmented reality, but in other ways. Energy use can be improved, not through smart grids but at the source of demand. Can HVAC systems be designed that better curate air temperature so that energy is delivered better?
Those are examples in which technology contributes to the person. What about privacy and security? Maybe we can understand that no short-term fix to the issue of vulnerable technology is on the horizon but that we can do our part to avoid making the problem worse. The same goes for privacy as well. Absolute secrecy does not exist. Archaeologists have been finding very old secrets for hundreds of years. However, there is such a thing as effective secrecy and privacy and they are important in the realm of relationships between existing people. None of that should be ignored for the sake of a technological and highly regulated utopia.