Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Latent Luddite

It is in the unwitting technological commitments that we shape our world.

When America committed to the automobile as its primary mode of transportation, it made an individualistic decision that traps individuals in situations they hadn't expected and it creates environments that no one wants. Have you ever looked at Rte 141? There are sections that no pedestrian would dare to step out onto. I saw a man the other day trotting across Rte 141 keeping a constant eye on approaching traffic just to make certain he wouldn't get caught off guard by an oncoming car. The tragedy is that there are no sidewalks on either side of the road where he was. It's as though whoever designed this thing had no notion that someone on foot might actually need to cross the road. It's design has in view only cars and traffic, not people. This is a technological commitment that is inhumane.

All this to give you a context for my observations a few days ago that shout of technological commitment we have yet to think about.

The ordinary evening routine for my granddaughters is bath, read a book, sing a song, sleep. After her bath, I went into the 2 year old granddaughter's room to read a book to her and was suprised at the sight. She was sitting on a chair playing a coloring game on her mom's iPhone. She held the thing in her hand as naturally as could be, immersed in intense concentration, sliding her little finger across the screen to create a color pattern, tapping to reset the game, and doing it again. It was second nature to her.

On the one hand you have to hand it to Apple. The iPhone is so intuitive and entertaining that a 2 year old can operate it. It's also brilliant from a marketing standpoint. If the iPhone is so easy to use, why wouldn't anyone want one? In fact, why would anyone want anything else? The assumption will be that "this is the brand I use." Brilliant . . . Apple locks in the market at 2 years old. But there is another angle to this. As brilliant as what this is, it makes me wonder what expectations she will have in 8 short years when her friends all have the latest generation iPhone and unlimited Internet access to watch on demand movies, listen to on demand music, and read on demand teen webpages, which she of course will not have any income to pay for. And there are already ethical issues in schools and other settings with the prevalence of personal electronic devices.

But watching this little girl with an iPhone, I have to ask. . . what unintended consequences have we committed to? Which will be the servant of the other?

Today's Influences and Soundtrack:
Neil Postman, Technopoly
Chris Dawson, Dynamics of World History
John Tesh, Avalon Shores
Michael Buble, Michael Buble
Nightnoise, A Retrospective