The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – How information technology has changed our world.

Most of my readers will immediately find irony in my lack of enthusiasm for the ultra-fast paced evolution of information technology.  After all, I am a software developer.  With each leap towards a more technologically savvy world in which we live, I am in a financial position to reap the rewards.

In my early teens I was intrigued by computers.  It was circa 1982.  I found it so exciting to know, that with a few key strokes, I could magically transform the thoughts in my mind in to something truly amazing.  I was an artist, and the computer was my medium.  Decades later, there is no surprise why I chose a career where I could showcase this passion.

Lest not forget, my childhood held many other interests and sources of excitement as well.  Be it chasing the ice cream man, popping wheelies on my BMX bike, playing in the “woods” with my friends, trying to avoid the bully on the playground, Saturday morning cartoons and the whiff of biscuits and gravy from my grandmother’s kitchen.  Before the advancement of the modern television, my father’s remote control was “Chris, get up and turn the knob to channel 3.”  The world was a much simpler place.  We had boundaries, and they were clear.  If I misbehaved, it was a given that the discipline I received didn’t always begin at home.  We had a strong sense of community.  We laughed, we cried, and we did it together.

I think we, as a society, witnessed a paradigm shift with the widespread onset of the daily use of the internet.  I recall the excitement of being able to immediately converse real time with virtually anyone with the introduction of the chat room.  For me, this was a real wow moment.  At the time, this new way to exchange our words and thoughts was limited to the young.  My parents were not as excited as I was.  They were less motivated to make this transition.  “Why would I need to chat with my friends and family when I can just pick up the phone?”  We’ve all heard the statement that the older we become, the more resistant we are to change.  While my parent’s resistance to this new use of technology was clear, I found it to be a huge leap forward for communication.  Email, navigating the internet during its infancy and the promise of “the sky’s the limit” was hard to ignore for even the most skeptical young person.

Fast forward about 20 years.  Technological innovation has completely transformed the world in which we live.  Smartphones, Facebook, Instagram, the Internet, steaming movies to our Wi-Fi enabled devices (iPad, smartphone, flat screen TV), online mapping of the world, free long distance phone calls, etc.  The average smartphone has millions if not billions of more processing power than the computers on the space ships which travelled to the moon!

How many of you can quickly recall the differences between a phone in 1990 versus a phone in 2015?  At that time a phone was representative of a location.  Now a phone represents instantaneous communication with a person.  Our phone has become a digital extension of ourselves.  We’ve accepted the undeniable fact that we can’t live without it.  It’s a leash.  We’ve become accustomed to using our smartphones for virtually everything we do.  Unfortunately this has made us closed off from one another.  We text instead of call.  We update where and when we happen to be through social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others.  Electronic communication has decoupled us from direct human interaction.

Advances in information technology also provide for some great resources.  How quickly can I find that restaurant or that road?  What is the name of that song? (Shazam)  Where can I find that book, shirt or recipe?  What movie did that actor star in? (IMDb)  Instant access to these and a multitude more allow us to move speedier than ever before.  Life has become fast.  If you slow down, you get run over.  But at what cost?  I can cause pain by “un-friending” you.  I can feel better about myself by exchanging access to my world via channels such as digital photos and updates of where I am or who I’m with.

Unfortunately, many of these technological advances have allowed us to forget how to think and to solve problems on our own.  Information technology has become an addiction.  While becoming connected we’ve effectively become entirely disconnected from one another.  We believe that by sharing every aspect and moment of our lives on social media websites, we are bringing ourselves closer to the ones we love.  This can be no further from the truth.  How often have you found yourself in a room full of people you know and almost everyone is “connected” instead of directly communicating with the people right in front of them?  We’d rather play crazy kitchen than plant real vegetables.  Another unfortunate problem with being “connected” is our laziness.  While sitting around playing with our devices, our bodies have become obese and unhealthy.  Our children have become so entrenched in this world, that they know nothing of its existence only years before now.  They fully expect access to these devices and information as if it’s no less important to their survival than the air they breathe.

At what point did we allow information technology to be a helpful tool instead of it being a gnat for which doesn’t even bother us?

As the internet and the super fast flow of information continues to evolve, so do we.  Yet, at the same time I could posit that we devolve.  Time will tell.  I often think that the more we progress towards the future, the more we digress.  In the end, will the world be better?  Or, will we slip in to a world of digital existence where we don’t even recognize what is right in front of us?


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