Reflected Pensiveness

beneath the leaky pipe of thought.

Social Responsibility

with 2 comments

There has been a recent explosion of high-powered technology in the past decade, as everyone is well aware. We now have tremendous power at our fingertips, in our pockets, and in our briefcases.  The blossoming of internet participation in projects like Wikipedia, blogging, and software development has played a significant role in this metamorphosis, and I think it’s done good things for the way many people view society.

I would agree with these people.  I think that technology has allowed us to come together as a race, more integrated and meshed with each other than ever before.  Boundaries both physical and metaphysical are of little obstacle to today’s information transfer.

But for us to really keep going on this track, I think we need to get everyone on board. This might start sounding like commercialist propaganda in a minute, so be forewarned – it isn’t.  I shall try to ignore largely the effects of what I might say on industry, although they are unavoidable in many cases.

But really, get this: I live on a college campus, and WiFi permeates every crevice of airspace.  With my iPod in hand (not even an iPhone, mind you – just an iPod) I have the full power of a computing system in my hand.  I can communicate to people across the world with email, I can look up the world’s collaborative knowledge instantly on Wikipedia, and I can listen in on my #fedora-docs meetings over SSH to my linux box.

I know that for most people reading this, the previous bit sounded like something that everyone has had a chance to realize – the power of the internet.  But we should also remember that we are, in fact, among a privileged sector of civilization in having access to these tools.  Luckily, the financial divide that was once at work here has started to close (although it still exists), but another boundary of which we are often less conscious is the line drawn by culture and intellect.

This line had to be crossed once before in the very introduction of the personal computer.  However much I like to type things into a console, many people simply don’t like it or will never understand it – not because they are inferior in any way, but simply because they have wired their brains differently, for different tasks and a different lifestyle.

Certain technologies are now built into my lifestyle, just like the pen and paper or the automobile or the television was built into the families of those respective time periods.  But people need time to adjust to these new introductions before moving on to even more stuff.

I feel that with the eruption of new technologies that we are asking society to adopt these days, it is imperative that we use consistent interfaces as long and as widely as they can be applied.  People need time to get on board, and they need to get comfortable with what we (speaking for the more technologically-aligned part of society) present to them.  It’s easy for us to say that they can either use what we give them or just not use it at all, but leaving people too far behind on the way up the tech-tree could have serious social repercussions.  I have little trouble imagining a temporary resegmentation of society between those who use technology and those who don’t.

Much Clearer Summary:

We need to work very hard to…

  1. Get modern technology in as many hands as possible.  This includes the personal computer/laptop, but also the PDA, smartphone, et cetera.
  2. Design standards for user interactivity.  I love my own customization as much as the next guy, but someone who doesn’t want to customize shouldn’t be presented with someone else’s artistic brainchild.  They should get a standard interface, with options for expansion.  Yes, this is arguably the console, but we should be able to get past the console and come up with a standard – and non-branded (seriously, not branded; not GNOME, or KDE, or Fluxbox, or OS X, or Windows, but simply unbranded) – intuitive universal underlying graphical system.
  3. Get government(s) more involved in technology, to a degree, so that standards can be upheld and so that technology is more likely to permeate into the average Joe’s lifestyle.
  4. Work to push down the price of internet via all interfaces, including “mobile networks”, until they are simply a standard no different than the phone lines or the electricity grid.

Damn, that’s ambitious.  But I can see that possibly working out before 2025, realistically.  So let’s start now?

I also just listened to a lecture on the French Revolution and the estate system of 17th century France, though, so I think I wrote this in a clouded state of judgement.

Everything’s probably pretty okay as it is.

Written by Matthew Daniels

January 29, 2009 at 4:14 pm

2 Responses

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  1. No comment other than “+1″.

    /me giggles at his usage of a digital elite approval technique

    Seriously, it’s important to circle back our constantly renewed understanding of our human history and what is happening in realtime. When describing why and how open source communities work, I find myself usually pointing out that the sharing culture and sense of responsibility to the community are wired in to us tribal creatures.

    In other words, how different is building a Linux distro from a barn raising?

    Karsten 'quaid' Wade

    January 31, 2009 at 7:35 am

  2. I know I’m late replying to this, but I have to say that I think your last sentence is somewhat of a modern zen koan.


    February 24, 2009 at 4:53 am

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