ALAN BYRNE

 

STUDENT NO: 98048163

 

1BA6

 

LECTURER: BRENDAN TANGNEY

 

ASSIGNMENT NO: 2

 

"A POPULAR VIEW!"

 

NO. OF WORDS(In Main Paper): 2090

 

NO. OF WORDS(In Abstract): 200

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Technological Progress leads to a Better Society" Ė Abstract

 

I am against this view. I believe that just because society becomes more advanced in technological terms it isnít suddenly Ďbetterí. In this manner I have sided with Stephen L. Talbot whose Netfuture articles and book "The Future Does Not Compute" greatly influenced my ideas during my preparation for this paper. However, anybody can sit down and write a paper on how computers are going to destroy the fabric of our society and cite numerous different reasons why. (Our over-reliance on them / Their increasing sophistication in military terms etc. . .) They could detail how these machines are already causing us more trouble than they are worth in the form of the Year 2000 bug and throw facts and quotations at the reader left right and centre. I have found that these can destroy the ideas at the core of a Paper and break the flow of consciousness. For instance:

 

"You can use statistics to prove anything you want. 62% of the population."

- Homer Simpson

 

My aim was to try to write a slightly more involving if more abstract paper. Hence my use of the metaphorical house representing past, present and future societies and their fundamentally interwoven nature.

 

 

TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS LEADS TO A BETTER SOCIETY

 

 

I could lead a grim life of utter disillusionment and spend every day staring out of a virtual window on the 122nd floor of a shiny new blemish on the landscape amidst a multitude of other deformed eyesores posing as architecture. Maybe when I finally trawl through the rush hour sky-lane traffic Iíll reach the Ďsafe havení of home only to be accosted by my electronic servants who tend to my every waking (and unwaking ) need, while I frivolously bet houses on horses and Ďgenerouslyí gift-wrap thirty BMWís every Christmas for neighbourhood wide dispersion to people I have never met face to face but only over a video-screen in a petty attempt to inject some much needed excitement into my life and to earn the respect or possible admiration of others. When my computer terminal breaks down, I wonít know what to do, or who to go to, my intrapersonal skills will be pathetic, my sense of humour non-existent. I will be miserable with my agnostic power-driven attitudes that were a product of the Ďnew information ageí. In short, I may not lead a happy life.

 

Of course, in ten years time the governments of the world united may decide that the exponential saturation of technology in our society can only lead to harmful consequences that will destroy the ideals that we as humans hold dear to our hearts. All the network servers could be powered down once and for all, all technological materials recycled and turned into primitive farming implements. My life would be one of hard yet rewarding agricultural work, sharing time with the ones I love and care for. At night tales would be told around candlelight of the disaster to the human race that was narrowly averted and Iíd be sitting there enjoying every single minute of it.

 

Hopefully my real future will lie somewhere in between this two possible, albeit unlikely, scenarioís that I have described, although I canít possibly know. As a human I physically canít comprehend the sheer exponential growth of technology and its infiltration into the core of our society. I can only speculate and then wait until time tells itís elaborate story.

 

However, right now in the present, it is bitterly cold, as it often is at seven oíclock on a dark and breezy December morning. Iím shivering, not violently, if I really wanted to I could probably stop but I feel an almost perverted comfort in my uncomfort, perhaps out of a want (or a need) to feel sorry for myself, as is quite common on a Monday morning with the looming promise of a long College day full of boring lectures on the horizon, as is the case now.

 

There are a number of reasons for the rigour I am experiencing. The first is that I am not yet fully clothed. When I was upstairs a T-shirt and shorts seemed sufficient for the small excursion down to the back room to grab a shirt from the back of a chair, but now standing in the hallway, with the second and considerably more significant reason for my coolness, the open front door letting in plenty of icy-cold air and driving away that precious warmth that I enjoyed but moments before, they feel as if they offer me no protection whatsoever.

 

Standing, looking at the open door appears to make me even colder, so I turn to look just behind me into the kitchen. Contrary to the cold uncomforting doorway, this room is cosy, and appears to ooze warmth. The faint but very audible whining of the fridge can be distinguished from the humming of the microwave as someone, probably my youngest brother, heats up his milk for a satisfying meal of ĎReadybrek.í I love that room and all itís faint nuances, the little things that over the years I have become attached to, such as the relaxing effects of the spinning washing machine or the whirring of the oven-fan, after you come in from a long day at college and collapse with a cup of coffee into a hard kitchen chair which, for all its inherent solidness, appears to be more comfortable than when you are snuggled up in your own bed at a quarter to seven in the morning, knowing that you must get up but first you have to wait just a few minutes longer . . . . .It is the familiarity of everything in the room that gives me the feeling of completeness. From the etchings on the doorframe, indicating my growth over the years and unfortunately, effectively stopping two years ago, to the whistling of the kettle in the corner, I always feel at home in this room full of warm memories and reliable sounds.

 

But, Iím cold and reminiscing on the past wonít get me any warmer. I turn again to the sound of my Dad picking up his heavy briefcase in one hand and his state of the art notebook P.C. in the other. Standing there in the doorway, framed by the intermittent flickering of an amber streetlight across the icy road, it strikes me as odd that I have never noticed before how seamlessly he fits into the stereotypical executive role. Another thought strikes me, this time as to how smoothly I fit into the detestable Ďlike father Ė like soní role. The way he stands, I stand. The way he walks, I walk. The way he thinks, I think. Even at my annual parent-teacher meetings in secondary school, new teachers who had never laid eyes on him before were able to recognise whose father he was Ė from my face! We sit the same way, for some reason we both look at the television sideways out of one eye, get headaches when we eat chocolate, like to be punctual and hate it when we lose something, especially an argument. With horror, it suddenly becomes clear, that I am my Dad, that every generation propagates the last, follows in its footsteps and makes the same mistakes.

 

I think over my Dadís life. I think about mine to come. Thirty years ago he did an Engineering degree, specialising in computer science in Trinity College. It was only the second year since the course had been set up. He embarked on a wide-ranging career, which encapsulated programming, management and consultancy. When he began, computers were large heavy mainframes like the IBM/360 that were housed in special rooms and computer programmers and operators were thought of as in much the manner as we think of geneticists today. They appeared to wield power over something that nobody else really understood. He saw the world adapt to these machines and eventually to embrace them. They got smaller and smaller, cheaper and cheaper. They gradually became more user-friendly, leaving behind text driven operating systems for a more natural and instinctive point and click approach. Their uses diversified, they became networked, linking themselves and their user to an almost infinite store of information. These machines ushered in a new age Ė ĎThe technological ageí. The world and society changed to suit the power that these computers could wield, and here we are today. It was an interesting time to live and work in.

 

The disturbing fact is that Iím doing computer science now. When my Dad finally retires from the world of computers, Iím going to be there for him to pass the metaphorical baton onto. I have to admit that this scares me more than just a little bit. When I look at how drastically the world has changed in just thirty years, how it has become a much smaller and interconnected place and yet somehow people are growing farther and farther apart at the same time, I am fearful as to what the next thirty years, my thirty years on the watch as such, are going to hold.

 

Perhaps this is my real future. Iíll be living in a two-storey detached house in suburban Dublin, wearing a suit, a tie and a starched shirt, holding a computer in my pocket and a heavy briefcase in either hand, heading off for yet another obligatory day at the awful office, overwrought with pressure and problems of a technological age thatís holding us all ransom to ourselves. No matter how much faster and more efficient the computers let us do our work, it doesnít mean that there is less work to do, just that thereís time for more and more work. Iíll be looking forward every day to going home to my family, my wife, and my kids, to sitting in my three-piece-suite with my newspaper and my choice of music. Basically Iím going to want to live MY life, a life where I can actually enjoy human things like music and conversation. Iím going to need to be able to go home and get away from the machines, like every human being ought to be able to do. Unfortunately I fear that this may be a need that will be hard to satisfy.

 

As computers continue to saturate our society they disrupt the normal potentials of human exchange. We can try and convince ourselves that nothings changed and that we spend as much time talking to our neighbours as our parents did thirty years ago, but weíd be lying to ourselves. The technology, by improving our standards of living for us, is deceiving us into believing that everything is alright as long as we embrace the progress and arenít scared of it. However perhaps a bit of wariness is to be advised. Our standards of living canít improve forever, but the strings on the technological straightjacket that are ever-tightening around us can be pulled for a long time to come.

 

I look back at the kitchen behind me, at the warmth of the life and the society that I know and have known. Itís a nice place to be but I know itís going to change eventually. The notches that marked my height will be painted over. The soothing sounds of the machines that I know well, the kettle, the washing machine and the microwave will be upgraded to newer models in a few years. The change is unfortunately inevitable. After all we canít stay in the way of technological Ďadvanceí now can we.

 

Here, standing in the hall I am cold and uncertain, half dressed, half ready for life. I donít know what lies ahead of me, but at least I have an idea. I look out the door at my dad, trying to pull his coat around him against the wind, close the door and hold the briefcase and the computer at the same time. Itís an awkward procedure, but then again everything seems to be that bit more complicated these days even though wherever we look we see words such as Ďmultitaskingí assuring us that our lives our getting simpler. Outside that door there is a cold, dark and unforgiving world. I can only hope that we realise the danger of everyday embracing a new technology as the Ďnext best thingí, of everyday changing our world just that little bit more. I think that we need to realise that change isnít always progress and just because we have access to more information and can process it faster, doesnít make us more intelligent or knowledgeable . The machines may be changing, the world may be changing, society may be changing, but at the core of our beings we are not! This is the great technological deceit. We try to convince ourselves that the situation is going to improve with the next advance, but we are the same and the next advance is going to leave us further behind, to trap us further. Our needs and longings for human interaction wonít just disappear but our ability to do so will and is, even at the moment. To put it mildly, this is a rather large problem that will have deep consequences for our society in the coming years.

 

I want to live my life. I donít want a computer to live it for me! As a result I worry about my future. What will the place where I create a past for my children be like? Where will their kitchen be? Will it be everything that we hope for or a place devoid of the human touch? I have a feeling that they are going to live in a tremendously different society, however we should always realise that, that doesnít necessarily mean that itís going to be a better one.

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

NETFUTURE ( Issue #1.)

"The Fundamental Deceit of Technology"

By Stephen L. Talbot.

 

NETFUTURE ( Issue #38 and #40 .)

"Is Technological Improvement What We Want", Part I and Part II.

By Stephen L. Talbot.

 

"The Future Does Not Compute"

Ė Transcending the Machines in Our Midst" (OíReilly, 1995 - 500.4 N53)

By Stephen L. Talbot.

 

"Visions of The Future" (500.4 N21)

Edited by Clifford A. Pickover.

In particular the chapter: "Computers and Human Communication."

By Davis Albert Foulger.

 

"Technologists Views of Society" (1BA6 1998 Paper No: 3)

By John Angle.