Alarming, Yet Amazing


For all the technological advances in the last decades, we still confront some of the same fundamental issues such as free speech and privacy.  In the past, controversy arose over whether a government could slander a fake robot company.  This past year, many questioned the role Facebook and other social media sites played in the election with allowing “fake news.”  Should Facebook censor false information?  Should Facebook censor offensive language?  Should Facebook censor terrorist recruitment posts? In the past, in the present, and likely in the future, the debate of balancing free speech and harmful language will rage on, even as new communication technology is developed.  Similarly, the question of privacy rights was relevant with the Finger utility decades years ago, and is still a salient question as phones can track location, record audio, and video at all times.  I take the attitude that everything done on a device could be seen by someone else or public even if companies claim that your data is private.  I think that the issue of privacy has only increased due to the amount of data that can be used to harm people.  Stalking other people’s location is creepy.  By using a powerful company’s devices, we cede a lot of rights and put our trust in them.


I found our discussion about cultural norms with certain technology also relevant for the present.  It is not socially acceptable to look at one’s phone in a middle of a conversation or meeting, but many people look at their smart watch while conversing.  Both acts disengage a person from the present, yet people are more comfortable with looking at their smart watch.  Perhaps this is because it has always been socially acceptable to look at a time-watch, and the more recent invention of the smart watch has not fully been integrated into social norms.  I find interesting how the social norm and use of certain platforms has evolved.  Before, most people posted pictures on Facebook, but now Instagram mostly dominates the picture posting.  Before, people sent pictures or videos over text, which has been replaced by Snapchat.


Upon reflection, I find that technology and the attitude surrounding new technology has really changed over my lifetime.  I remember in middle school that my parents were vehemently against me being on Google Buzz, an online chatting platform.  Years later, my parents constantly encourage me to send them pictures or messages over any and all platforms while I am separated from them at college.  Before, I think people were more cautious of online technology while now most people, including older generations, embrace it.  I am quite fortunate to live in a world where I can FaceTime my younger brother Chris every day.  Technology can separate us from our physical present surroundings, but I think is extremely valuable for connecting us to others when separated by long distances.  I would be saddened if I could not talk to or virtually see my brother at any given moment.  For all the concerns of free speech and privacy, I am grateful for the connected world that technology enables.

Perpetual Progress


Comparing the state of the world in the 1950s/60s depicted in the readings and the world we live in today in which multiple digital AI systems exist to serve us, I recognize just how spectacular present-day technology is.  Recently, my roommates and I bemoaned that one of us did not have an iPhone, forcing us to use Facebook messenger for our group chat instead of the preferred iMessage.  The people at ARPA would have been shaking their heads at our spoiled remarks, happy to have even one efficient, reliable communication system.  Likewise, our discussion of Alexa and Cortana would have made the people sixty years ago salivate at the mere idea of digital ecosystems that humans can talk to.  While we find the partnership of Amazon and Microsoft intriguing as the two companies untraditionally team up with competing products, ARPA would have been amazed that such products even exist.  Despite differences in technology, people then and now grappled with collaboration and competition.  In the past, telecommunication innovation was suppressed by AT&T as they attempted to dominate the market.  Today, rival technology companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft share little information between each other, competing for market share.  The dominance and isolation of the major companies could dangerously stifle innovation.


I truly take for granted the technology that ARPA struggled with, not even understanding how the internet truly works.  Until reading Where Wizards Stay Up Late, I had no conception of ideas such as packets, message blocks, IMPs and network redundancy.  It is scary how little I know about the inner workings the technology I rely on such as the internet, smart phones, computers, among many other things.  I find it slightly peculiar that many people use their smart phones the most of anything in the world, yet know little about how the indispensable device works.


At Disney World, there is a ride called The Carousel of Progress.  The ride depicts the technological advances across the last century in different scenes.  The first scene describes the turn of the 20th century that brings gas lamps, movie pictures, and disbelief that the Wright brothers will ever get a flying vehicle to work.  Each subsequent scene describes the new advances every couple decades, with the theme song “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow” marking the scene transition.  In each scene, the characters remark that they have life so much easier than in the past, disbelieving that life could be any better.  Our discussion on digital assistants in contrast to the development of the internet sixty years ago causes me to see to how far we have come as depicted in The Carousel of Progress.  Like the characters in the ride, I see how much easier life is then it was before, and in partial disbelief of how life could be any easier.  However, knowing that technology always advances in unpredictable ways, I am excited for what the future brings, and hopefully I can contribute to the progress.  As Disney World says, “there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow.”




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