End of Decade Musings: How Technology Has Robbed and Twisted Us

Kids lining up against the wall with smartphones
Kids lining up against the wall with smartphones
Tech mania happens early. Why?

The Particle Debris article of the week comes from Chris Matyszczyk at ZDNet.

“2009-2019: How Apple, Google, and friends drove us mad.”

Author Matyszczyk launches the impressive missive with:

When a decade ends, it’s time to look in the mirror. Do we like what we see? How much should we blame technology?

… Has the world become more open and connected, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised? Or have we all become bitterly divided, nauseatingly irritable vessels of barely diluted bile?

I my mind, tech life sanity depends on three things:

  1. What circles you reside in.
  2. How you approach personal computing decisions & strategies.
  3. Having a certain modesty & restraint.

Not everything touted by tech giants, with fanfare, needs to be embraced. Not every personal activity needs to be flouted in public. Not every app urged by a friend on Facebook needs to be engaged. Author Matyszczyk notes:

We got so excited about posting our every thought, mood and self-image to Facebook and Instagram that we didn’t bother to consider the consequences.

Equally, tech companies got so excited about releasing more and more gadgets, software and liberating libertarian ideas that they didn’t stop to consider what the dark-spirited might do with them.

This article goes on for a bit, but the more you read it, the more you realize how frenzied and complex our tech lives have become. At this time of year when we both focus on friends and family and count our blessings, author Matyszczyk provides plenty of food for thought.

And perhaps inspiration for our life moving forward.

The Week’s News Debris

ORNL supercomputer, Summit
Photo courtesy Katie Bethea/ORNL.

• The U.S. has regained the performance lead from China in supercomputers. “DOE still has top two supercomputers, including Summit at ORNL.” Peak speed was published as 200.8 PetaFlops.

The U.S. Department of Energy still has the two most powerful supercomputers in the world, including Summit at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, according to a semiannual list released Monday.

It’s the fourth time in the past two years that Summit, an IBM-built supercomputer, has been number one on the TOP500 list of of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.

• If you plan to give your credit card information to various websites during holiday shopping, watch out for this scam. “Scammers try a new way to steal online shoppers’ payment-card data.

• Here’s some supply chain info about the iPhone 12 as well as well as a prediction for the iPhone SE 2. From MacRumors: “Barclays: iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max Will Likely Have 6GB of RAM, iPhone SE 2 Production to Begin February.” Cult of Mac has yet more detail.

• Jonny Evans at Apple Must wonders: “Is Apple building a team to elevate the podcasting industry?

Though the tried and tested truth is that when Apple enters a new space, things usually get interesting – and as big tech gets into this sector you can predict the increasingly rapid consolidation and the creation of new media companies in the industry….

• Finally, we all know how to create encrypted .DMG files. But The Eclectic Light Company has published as nice tutorial on how (and why) to create encrypted sparse bundles in APFS. “How to encrypt files and folders in APFS.” Bookmark this one.

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article(s) of the week followed by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

3 thoughts on “End of Decade Musings: How Technology Has Robbed and Twisted Us

  • John:

    Chris Matyszczyk was not having a happy day when he penned his ZDNet piece; in fact, it read as if he were having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. We all hit these patches, sometimes unexpectedly, that can darken our perspective on even the taste of our favourite foods; it’s quite another to allow these to define our entire perspective on an important topic in the public space.

    To begin with, the early morning routine that Mr Matyszczyk describes bears no relationship to mine, and not simply mine, that of no one in my household. While it is true that the first thing I might touch in the morning is my iPhone, it is to silence the wake up alarm. My engagement with my technology, whether for work or play, has very little to do with social media, apart from activities such as this, to read and share ideas, and not to engage in narcissistic exhibitionism.

    I suggest that his analysis was both incomplete and off target. He begins his analysis with an excoriating look into Zuckerberg’s blatant hypocrisy and flip-flopping of his stance on privacy, which was on full inglorious display in his Congressional testimony when he acknowledged that he would not like for his own hotel whereabouts to be publicly outed, despite FB indiscriminately sharing such information on their users. To argue that Zuckerberg has been wrong in his predictions about the future, and has woefully underestimated how the FB platform, designed to harvest personal information for paid distribution, could be exploited to such disastrous effect not simply on individuals but elections, governments, social stability and the safety and security of whole communities, is simply stating the obvious about a platform, and indeed a business model, recently dubbed ‘surveillance capitalism’ that was never designed to serve the user or the public, but the profits of the companies and their investors. Fair enough in a market system, but there is more. As designed, these platforms are designed as spaces for personal sharing. Of everything, including speech.

    Given that speech is how humans communicate, and communication is how ideas are spread and communities are organised and then galvanised into coordinated action, to then indiscriminately provide everyone with a communication bullhorn that can be heard worldwide by countless millions, and to expect that everyone would use that bullhorn responsibly, was in retrospect beyond naive, but a level of profligate irresponsibility unprecedented in scope and impact in modern history.

    These are broad themes beyond technology to human interactions and behaviours around human power. Human genius can and will exploit any technology digital or mechanical to extend that human power to its furthest limits. This is what we do. It is how we save human life. It is how we got to the moon and explored the solar system, photographed black holes and detected gravitational waves. It is also how we have conducted forced migrations, trafficked humans, enslaved whole peoples, conducted pogroms and ethnic cleansing campaigns and genocide. It is who we are; creatures of limitless potential for both good and evil.

    Broadly speaking, there are two issues at play.

    The first is about the technology. No technology is inherently good or evil. Technology is merely a tool. A steel blade or a digital map can both be used to save or take life. The issue with technology is in our appreciation of its potential, and proactively taking steps to limit its availability for harm through legislation and law enforcement to protect our civil and human rights. And it is here, whether through wont of knowledge and failure of imagination, or through connivance and malfeasance, that we have failed to adequately protect ourselves. If we are to be fair and truthful, then we have to be brave enough to assume personal responsibility and hold ourselves accountable for our own contributions to our current plight. Blindly following the crowd or the trend of the day is no excuse. It is not solely the fault of Zuckerberg, or Google, or Amazon amongst the surveillance capitalists, or any of the other tech giants including Apple and Microsoft. The fault equally is ours collectively for not holding our elected representatives accountable in protecting our rights, our privacy and our liberties. Freedom and safety have always had to be purchased through vigilance, courage, struggle and sometimes blood, but it has never, ever been freely ceded by those who arrogate to themselves an entitlement to rule. In a democracy, that requires more than tweeting; but open public debate, the conflict of ideas, agreement upon the resilient facts that emerge from that conflict, voting and engaging with our elected representatives to keep them honest. As Ben Franklin sagely warned when asked regarding the type of government the American Founding Fathers had attempted to create for their fledgling democracy, ‘A republic, if we can keep it’. If we can keep it. Individual liberties and rights, like human virtues themselves, can never be taken for granted. They require hard work, sacrifice, and must be daily practised and defended.

    The second is fundamentally about not merely our values, but the vision of who we aspire to be and a continuing dialogue about how best to get there. And not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the value proposition of public spaces such as TMO, and others, where, if we so chose, we can engage in thoughtful discourse, not simply on the value and meaning of our technology, but how best to use it to become the best version of ourselves.

    In a word, it is, as it has ever been, about choices. And how we chose to use our technology speaks to not simply about who we are, but whom we aspire to be, whether or not we do so slavishly or with forethought.

    Duty calls.

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