When I was an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, I had a boyfriend who was majoring in computer science. Many evenings we would walk down to the campus building that housed the mainframe computers and load a stack of punch cards he had prepared into a machine the size of an office copier, then wait an hour or so for the program to compile. The PC had not yet been invented, and the only electronic device in my dorm room was a clock radio. Was it difficult to do research and write papers? Not really, thanks to the nifty technology invented by Mr. Gutenberg and Messrs. Smith and Corona.
Our lives have changed so much and so rapidly that we often forget anyone born before 1990 once lived in a world that had no Web, a nearly inconceivable notion to us now. From that perspective, here are a few thoughts.
The Internet & Web were originally created by and for people who wanted a better way of working together, as Tim Berners-Lee explains. Technology has indeed helped us connect, yet it has also divided us in many ways. I don’t have the sense that technology keeps us from encountering other humans, quite the opposite, but it does limit the variety of humans we reach. We are less likely to deal with people who cannot or do not use technology. We are less likely to include people of different ages and generations. We are less likely to interact with people on social media if we do not agree with them; it is too easy to choose an interest group with similar views and preferences to ours. Or, if we do disagree, the exchange is apt to be at cross purposes.
Perhaps the most intricate divide of all is between the designers and the users of technology. The values that drive technological development – speed, efficiency, problem-solving, precision, consensus – define a culture that has entirely transformed our world. An Indiana executive once told me: “Anyone who is in manufacturing is in advanced manufacturing.” How many lives are impacted by this revolution, how many left behind?
It is too late to object, even if we wanted to give back the gifts of technology. I don’t. But thinkers, readers and writers have always reflected upon the meaning of what is new and significant, and we can do the same. In fact, I would suggest that we first take a look at what technology insiders themselves are thinking, reading and writing about. It’s not hard to do – just google “technology.”
This blog is part of a blog series, All Good Things. The series, written by Nancy Conner, will run throughout the year to reflect on topics that have been central to our work at Indiana Humanities.