On The One Hand, Then On The Other

As a Baby Boomer myself, I have grown up seeing the Computer Age, if we can call it that, mature from it's herky-jerky beginnings to what we have now; and what we have now is pretty impressive, if you stop and think about it. Remember the Apollo moon missions? They navigated with computer systems that were less powerful than a 10-year-old scientific pocket calculator. Think of the ubiquitous smartphone: a slim device you can fit into your pocket or purse that can make phone calls, send email, take photos or movies, surf the Internet, play music, and so on. We can even interact with these devices by speech, at least in an elementary manner.

While all that is wonderful - and I do find it literally "full of wonder" - the other implications of these technological advances give me pause. Actually they concern me quite a bit. Since we have come to rely on our technology in so many areas (think about the scope of it for a moment), we are at it's mercy. This has several ramifications to you and I, even though we may not always be aware of them.

On the macro scale, if there was ever a successful (or even only partially successful) attack on our technology infrastructure, we would quite literally be crippled as a society. Whether from a hacking attack on our banking system or through something like a high altitude EMP blast, taking out even a single critical part of our underpinnings could "send us back to the stone age", at least for a while. Not too many of us are ready for that.

Lest you think I am overstating this, a simple lightning-induced power failure in New York City in 1977 led to a 24-hour city wide blackout, sparking riots, looting and arson in a terrifying display of what people can do under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

Less dramatic but more insidious, is the growing problem of data and identity theft. Because we are all becoming a part of the Big Data complex just by participating in technology, we are subject to all the hack attacks, leaks and potential mis-use of our personal data. Since we have come to rely on our identities in the system for so much, the potential for personal disaster is self evident.

Even more important to some, the concomitant erosion of our privacy and potentially our individual freedom is another aspect of this; GPS tracking whether you want it or not, email scanning and so on. Short of living self-sufficiently in a cabin in the woods, it is difficulty to extricate oneself from the complex fabric we have woven in the industrialized West.

One can hope that some balance will be reached, but the speed at which technology progresses is such that our laws (and even our social interactions) are still trying to catch up; so while that is a comforting hope, it's perhaps not very realistic. 

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