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TU Global: Society depends on the relationship between tech, people

30 March 2014 By Jake Ulick, Columnist No Comments

On March 12, The Economist published a chart celebrating exactly 25 years since British physicist Tim Berners-Lee sent his boss a memo outlining a blueprint for an “information management” system that would eventually become the Internet just a couple years later. The chart and data show how far we’ve come as a society with technology pointing out different fundamental and disruptive innovations like electricity, television and the Internet and how many years it took for one quarter of the American population to adopt them. The trend is almost scary the way it consistently decreases over the course of about a century starting with electricity, which took 46 years before just a quarter of the population fully adopted it. For the telephone it was 35 years, radio took 31, television 26, the PC 16, mobile phones 13 and finally the Internet — just seven years.

The funny thing is, to our generation, seven years honestly seems like a long time for the adoption of a new technology. According to a chart from the Pew Research Center, just two years after Facebook was created roughly half (49 percent) of Internet users ages 18-29 had begun using social networking sites. While at the time, most probably didn’t foresee the fundamental impact that Facebook and other social media sites would soon have on the rest of the world, but look where we are now because of these intangible inventions.

These figures are what keep technology experts and futurists like author and inventor Ray Kurzweil discuss a sort of singularity in which the intelligence of humans and computers will become one and “the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed and knowledge-sharing ability of our own creations.” This is how Kurzweil puts it in his 2005 book “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.”

While I, as an aspiring journalist, find great confidence in what the numbers can tell us and, on another note, have started reading Kurzweil’s book, there are some instances in which the statistics will not always be as useful in assessing a topic as your own observations will be. Yes, the rate at which we are not only adopting but inventing new technologies has been increasing rapidly. But we are not yet at a point where humans and technology have merged, and not  even when Google Glass goes on sale to the general public we will not be there yet either.

I’ve encountered this sentiment a lot from high school teachers, professors and members of older generations. People tend to very easily and nonchalantly say, usually in order to make a point about something currently being discussed in class, that we are living in a digital technology-Internet world; that our lives are based around and fully integrated with technology and social networks. If you look around campus, you’ll see people on their phones, computers, tablets wirelessly connecting with other people and information.

But the seeker-sender is still a very separate entity from the mechanism, regardless of how much your devices know about you and your spending or searching habits (cha-ching). We need to be careful when we give ourselves or willingly embrace these characterizations of our generation and lifestyle so as to not fool ourselves into believing that we are dependent on technology. Our generation needs to be more self-aware not in the “who saw my Instagram or Facebook post” sense but about what role technology truly plays in our lives.

The technology that our generation has grown up with has played a major role in our lives, no doubt. But it’s important to remember that our collective development as a species brought about these new inventions, which signify that we as people are evolving. We harnessed electricity, we made the telephone and we made Facebook. We are not at a point where our own technological progress overwhelmingly infiltrates and defines our basic way of life; for now it only changes the way we do things.



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