Friday, June 26, 2009

Have we used the technology well?

If ever we needed evidence of the new world of instant communication then the tragic death of Michael Jackson yesterday is a perfect example of the use of the new technology to meet our demand, our unquenchable thirst for instant news.

Last night I was watching Sky News on TV at around 8.45 pm when it was announced Michael Jackson had been taken to hospital with a suspected cardiac arrest.

Within two hours Sky reported the very sad news that Michael had died.

I understand both Facebook and Twitter became overloaded; texts by the million were sent back and forth around the world; and there has been wall to wall TV coverage since.

I got to thinking about my 80 year old Mum who was a teenager during World War Two (1939-45). Mum had very little information (make that zero information) in ‘real time’ or ‘live’ about one of the most important periods in the history of the world and in particular Britain and Europe.

Now just 65 short years later (a blink of the eye in historical terms) we have all the information we need (and more) at our fingertips; on demand; and in front of our eyes.

A genuine question …

Have we really made the most effective use of the technology we have seen developed since my Mum was a teenager to build a better, more peaceful and less unequal planet ….or have we used it primarily for news and entertainment value?


Dan Gunter said...


Actually the answer to that question is not so simple. In a way, yes, we have made very effective use of that technology. We can keep in touch with family, friends, and coworkers better than ever. We can communicate instantly, send pictures, video, etc. at nearly the speed of light (literally.) And many organizations and individuals strive every day to put it to effective use for the true betterment of individuals and society as a whole.

At the same time, the same technology has arguably eroded a lot of social skills, undermined the morals and ethics of many via increased exposure to poor influences, and threatened our privacy and security in ways we would not have dreamed of in even the fairly recent past.

Thus, we have done both. Like a gun, chemical, or anything else, what has the potential to be of benefit to us can at the same time be a detriment. It is up to the user to maintain a sense of right and wrong in the use of technology. And even that is becoming more blurry as the technology fosters new possibilities and new, more intense debates centered around those possibilities.

So, my answer is both "yes," and "no" at the same time.

hucknjim said...


Just wanted to second Dan's comment and would like to emphasize his point that the value of the technology lies in how we choose to use it. Keeping it secure is job #1, as I always emphasize to my friends who are either novices or for those who don't want to have to work too hard to keep it secure, there are free programs that will do the job with only a bit of effort. After that, the way they surf is largely up to them as long as they aren't indiscriminate about what they click on.

Yet I suspect that I haven't really answered your larger question. In a sense it's unanswerable. The first telegraph message ever sent read, "What hath God wrought?", which is an apt question. Technology always has, and I suspect always will, outpace our ability to use it wisely and well. It is my hope that we will learn to do both.


Trevor Gay said...

Great comments as always Dan and John.

In the grand scheme of things I believe technology – just like all advancements in history - is only as useful as its ethical use. I would love to see technology used directly as an aid to solving the very real human problems of our one planet.

I hear about the wonders of the technology and in the same breath I hear that 30,000 people – mainly children – die EVERY DAY due to extreme poverty on our one planet.

I hear that we spend more on ice cream per year in Europe than it would cost to provide a primary school education for every child on the planet.

I know the issues here are not simple.

We have undoubtedly used the technology to expand business, create more and more wealth and promote entertainment. We have 24 hour news now just to tell us - wall to wall - about all the problems of the world we are doing far too little about.

In 200 years time the children of our great, great, great, grandkids may well look back on 2009 and ask their teachers this sort of question ……

“Hey teacher let me try and understand something about 2009. How come on our one planet 30,000 people – mainly children - were ALLOWED to die every day through extreme poverty while at the same time the folks back then BOASTED about how much money they were making in business and how the world was connected through technology? Kinda seems there is some contradictions about priorities here guys”

But then I know I am just an idealistic sort of person.

Politics, money and big business always get in the way of common sense.

Gandhi’s brilliant words ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world” NEVER had as much resonance as in the use of technology.

Marilyn Jess said...

Dear Trevor,

You have raised a subject that is near and dear to me. Since I discovered my true passion, and that is helping others to communicate their message, I have become much more attuned to how tech is used to communicate.

I've even blogged about it--e.g. don't be a slave to tech, use it as a tool. The proof, I think, is in the folk I meet in my Toastmasters clubs. All (a strong assertion, but I haven't seen it disproved) seem to be reaching, at some level, for better interpersonal connection through speaking, and through leadership.

The fact that people still shrink from meeting strangers, and talking with them, even when doing so will benefit them--think job hunting, which many are now doing--tells me we still have much work to do.

As in healthcare, the fact that we CAN doesn't mean we should. There is a huge segment of our global population that will never Tweet or send a text message or IM. Talk is still the most common way to communicate.

David Porter said...

Excellent, thoughtful posts. It is a complicated question and I will add the following anecdote. When I started in public accounting, personal computers were just beginning to be introduced. Most of our work was on 7 to 14 column paper as was much financial analysis. In my view, the advent of Lotus 123 and Excel significantly increased the efficiency of financial analysis but, over time, practitioners that knew both approaches gave way to those who knew only one and effectiveness decreased as the capability for faster analysis increased along with advancing technology. In many ways, we are losing our ability to think independently. Not technology's fault, per se, but an unintended consequence of our "progress".

Tim Blair said...

Certainly the answer to the question is a matter of degrees. We have not used technology 100% effectively nor is it 100% used for entertainment.

I think this is a matter of the heart rather than the use of technology. Until we(I)fully embrace the thought that every second each of us lives there is there is someone across the world dying of hunger or treatable disease, we(I)will not use every available resource to solve that problem.

Trevor, I think that perhaps never before in history has one person had the ability to make a difference as one does today. Our individual connectedness with the world gives us the platform to be that change Ghandi talked about. As an example, I started Twitter For Food for just this reason - I truly believe one person can be the catalyst that changes the world. History has proven it, we just need to individually embrace it and use all resources, including technology, to put feet to the idea.



Trevor Gay said...

Hi Marilyn - As you so rightly say we should always remember technology is the tool not the master. We can never blame technology for poor communication in my opinion. I get increasingly surprised at the lack of common decency in email when for instance people cannot even have the good manners or decency to acknowledge an email never mind reply!

We cannot hide behind technology either and face to face is still the best form of communication. I love that term you use – ‘the fact we can doesn’t mean we should’ – Amen to that Marilyn – thanks as always for your wisdom on these matters of communication.

Trevor Gay said...

David –thanks for visiting Simplicity Blog – I hope you will become a regular. I feel much the same. I recall when I started work how all the secretaries went to college to learn to type technically and it was on manual typewriters – along comes the personal PC and all that stuff becomes irrelevant in many ways as we all use the keyboard and are generally self taught. It’s called progress I guess David. I also recall those days before excel – how the heck did accountants manage! :-)

Trevor Gay said...

Tim – good to hear from you again.

Your comments resonate with me perfectly and I’m absolutely sure it’s in the heart that these battles have to be won.

I also agree with you about the impact individuals can have in the world today. I have a regular community of people who visit my Blog here and with whom I maintain dialogue and a learning environment. It is a good feeling and such connections have the potential to make a big difference.

I often always use the Margaret Mead quote that I’m sure you know:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

And once more you are correct Tim – this stuff is simple.

Dave Wheeler said...


Technology is a marvelous thing...allegedly! Tools in the hands of a craftsman can produce things of beauty and significance. My biggest issue with technology is in media and communications. Communicating world wide is a marvelous thing as a means of sharing knowledge. Being able to communicate world wide when the message is lies, hate, propaganda is not. One's ability to use technology in and of it's self is meaningless if one doesn't know how to interpret and apply the information they access.

Trevor Gay said...

"Tools in the hands of a craftsman can produce things of beauty and significance."

Brilliant Dave - you have summed it all up in those words Sir - thank you.

Dick Field said...

"….or have we used it primarily for news and entertainment value?"

Trevor --

We just got back from a two-week road trip in France and Germany. At every stop, we were bombarded by mind-numbing and repetitious "news" on the death of Michael Jackson when turning on the hotel room television - on CNN, BBC, and the French and German stations. At one stop in the Orleans area, the hotel manager came up to us at breakfast, asking in a hushed tone if we had heard that Michael Jackson had died. Most of the coverage clutter was commentary and adoration from fans and people in the biz. It was, quite frankly, an orgy of media overkill of news about entertainment - pushing out news of post-election Iran and anything else of consequence. A poor use of the communication tools, in my opinion.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Dick – Great to hear from you and I hope Lucy is still progressing. I hope you enjoyed your trip to Europe – you were very close to us when you were in France – only 22 miles across the English Channel!! -next time we must hook up!

You frustration mirrors mine in the wall to wall coverage re MJ.

Your example also illustrates my point perfectly.

It seems to me we can use the technology for that sort of thing because it presumably fulfils a need … and yet … is there any greater need today than peace in our world and eradication of poverty.

Why do we not use the same technology to bring home the truth of what is happening on our planet?

30, 000 people die every day – mainly children – due to poverty and we see nothing about it in the media. One pop star dies and wall to wall coverage 24/7.

But hey Dick – what do I know?

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