Technophobia: A resolution


Google GlassAn article I read recently described the outright animosity experienced by a reporter on a long-term evaluation of Google Glass.  I learned a new word from the article, one directed (openly) at the author: Glasshole.  The article was shared with me on Facebook by a friend, who made reference of another word I’d just learned: Bluedouche (someone who wears a bluetooth earpiece in the presence of other people, whether they are actually on a phone conversation or not).  I’ll bet you that at the turn of the 20th century, people weren’t being called names by showing up at parties with timepieces strapped to their wrists.

It served to remind me—as if I needed reminding—that a lot of people are still distrustful, distracted and outright frightened of technology.  Still.  In 2014. When I think overmuch on the irony of this situation, my head tends to want to pop… which, I expect, would make a noise similar to the “pohmp” voiced by Ahmed the Dead Terrorist.

Here we are in 2014, a year which sees many of us using cellphones to communicate with each other, and not just in the so-called “developed” world, but pretty much worldwide; in which some of us have cars that park themselves and slow down on their own before they rear-end the car you didn’t notice because you were texting in the driver’s seat; in which we can fly to any corner of the world, no matter how expensive, thanks to a plastic card in our wallets; in which we can carry thousands of books with us on an electronic card smaller than my thumbnail; in which we can carry on video phone conversations with people on the far side of the planet, essentially for free and in realtime; in which we are tapping into the human genome and finding cures for things which have beaten down scientists for centuries, including forms of cancer; in which we are now developing the ability to print viable organs on a 3-D printer; in which a number of inventors have created actual, workable flying cars; in which the watch on my wrist can download the correct time from a clock, 2000 miles away, which keeps accurate time by measuring the decay rate of cesium atoms; and in this world, people say they don’t like technology.

Okay, sure, it can be said that people don’t dislike technology, but the ways in which it can be abused.  NSA surveillance in real life and Person of Interest on television have us all convinced that some government wonk knows exactly how many calories we ingested with our coffee and cereal this morning.  We see a person wearing Google Glasses, and wonder if he’s taking pictures of us in our… well, clothing.  We see a person wearing an earpiece, and wonder if he’s taping our conversation about last night’s Caps game.  And we don’t want to tell them about our real feelings about Breaking Bad, lest someone in authority decide that we’re closet meth-heads or wannabe drug lords.

Okay, so we’re overly paranoid.  (That’s probably more Madison Avenue’s fault than the government’s, but still.)  But blaming technology for our paranoia is a lot like blaming your shoes for the fact that you’re too fat to walk a mile in them.

This, I suspect, is why steampunk and dieselpunk are as popular as they are: Both represent technologies that are more easily understandable than today’s quantum-based electronics, and are mostly mechanical in form and function (no eavesdropping nanobots or wifi microphones sewn into our lapels and embedded in our coffee cups).  The steampunk and dieselpunk worlds still allow us to keep our secrets to ourselves; they won’t magically escape our best efforts to keep them hidden (though we still have to worry about talking in our sleep, apparently).

And as long as we are like this, how can we possibly move ahead?  How can we give our trust to cars that are just a few years away from being able to drive us anywhere we want to go (something we’re willing to trust to a cab driver with 2 months’ residency who doesn’t even speak our language)?  How can we use our cellphones’ security software to locate or protect us, if we’re turning it off to prevent being eyeballed from space by the CIA?  How can we progress to superior biometric ID and security systems, if we’re all using social media to share articles about criminals cutting off our index fingers to penetrate our grocery store convenience accounts?

We, as a people, clearly have issues… but we need to understand and admit that our issues are not with technology.  We still have trust issues.  We still fear what we don’t understand.  And we still fear others whom, we suspect, know more than us.  And those issues are preventing us from progressing.

So: Maybe we should consider a joint New Year’s resolution for 2014, something that will be good for all of us: We need to devote ourselves to understanding technology, its capabilities, its limitations, and its worth; we need to develop our technology openly and logically, being mindful of sloppy designs that can lead to unintended and improper use; we need to inform everyone about the technology, and listen to legitimate concerns about its failings or potentially improper use; and we need to apply technology carefully, properly and logically, with no corners being cut to satisfy profit, favoritism, corruption or subversion.

Let’s make 2014 the year we beat down technophobia, and face the future with open eyes.

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