Saturday, March 17, 2012

Is anything new under the sun?

There are these days many new books on the impact of information technologies on us and they fall into three general categories; 1) Technology is the best thing since sliced bread and is enriching our lives; 2) Technology is destroying us bit by bit; and 3) There is nothing new under the sun and we've visited all of these benefits and concerns before. I tend to fall into the third category. From Socrates's too-often visited words from the Phaedrus on the debilitating effects of writing on memory (think Google), to the debate that raged in eighteenth-century Europe on the socially stunting effects of letter writing (think Facebook), to the economic, democratic, national defensive, information spreading benefits of the railway in the nineteenth century (think Internet), there seems to be nothing entirely new out there.


  1. As for "Anything New"
    I am interested in knowing if with all this new technology (e.g., recently the new iPad HD) and connectivity to various places and FRIENDS made online if any of this has an impact on productivity (in largest sense of the term)? What about our schools. giving kids computers etc., does this improve reading, math, basic knowledge in any way?
    In society at large does any of this impact daily lives. For example can't all the smart people figure out how to lower gas prices?
    I see advertisements that IBM can re-direct traffic but any given day on the Long Island Expressway there are traffic jams in either direction (into NYC or coming from NYC).
    Can these new technologies do something for everyday people in their daily lives, and if so what is the empirical proof.
    Earl Smith

  2. Wow a response. Thanks for taking the time Earl. I don't know if we are changing or improving basic knowledge, but we are changing the way we produce and represent knowledge. Take the Encyclopedia Brittanica. It represented the a pinnacle of knowledge production in a certain era, but to update or even correct that knowledge was like turning a barge around in a river - very slow and cumbersome. Wikipedia on the other hand is a new type of production. It is highly accurate it is essentially produced by everyday people in their everyday lives and updating or correcting it is like turning a jet ski - very efficient. Now, as to whether this new efficiency gets applied as broadly as it should is another question. Unfortunately, I can't answer anything about traffic patterns or gas prices - not my area of expertise. My broad answer is that all new technologies bring their purported benefits as well as new challenges. This is the case for all technologies going back to that simple spear. On the one hand it represented life because you could get food with it, and on the other you could take a human life with it.