Felix Writes: Tempering Techno-optimism

DigitalThoughts / Tempering Techno-optimism

I am definitely a techno-optimist. Without the Internet, I would have a handful of friends, at most. Without the Internet, I'd be out of a job. Without the Internet, I'd know much less, do much less and nobody would ever hear about me.

So I've read this blog post about computer-mediated omnipresence with great delight at first, nodding at every paragraph while reminiscing my own exhilarating experiences with new technologies.

That is, until I've reached this little gem:

At the end of long business trip, on a late night flight back to Sydney, I left my iPad in the seatback pocket of an aircraft. I didn’t discover this for eighteen hours, until I unpacked my bags and noted it had gone missing. “Well, that’s it,” I thought. “It’s gone for good.” Then I remembered that Apple offers a feature on their iPhones and iPads, through their Me.com website, that lets you locate lost devices. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I launched the site, waited a few moments, then found my iPad. Not just the city, or the suburb, but down to the neighborhood and street and house – even the part of the house! There it was, on Google’s high-resolution satellite imagery, phoning home.

Oh? How do you think the other guy felt when you called to retrieve your little treasure? Or if you don't care about that, consider a more important question: do you realize that Apple has known the whole time where your iPad was at all times? Including, you know, when it was at its rightful place in your bag? Never mind an overly suspicious secret service tracking you via a multinational corporation that doesn't care about its customers' rights; the first script kiddie who breaks into Apple's database will be able to cause you all kinds of trouble. And as Sony's recent double-break-in proves, that's only a matter of time.

Look, folks, technology is great. It changes our world, it changes our lives, it changes our selves. And it does so for the best, most of the time. But let's not forget that fire can raze cities as easily as it can cook your food. And yes, that's an inevitability; the laws of physics apply equally to everyone. But it does mean we need to draw a line here and there and say, "this is too dangerous; this needs to be kept in check".

I can't do much without a cellphone nowadays. Nor can I travel the city with a mask on my face, to avoid surveillance cameras (though I do think we should have the legal right to do just that). But I can use a tablet PC that isn't the iPad, just as I can use an e-book reader that isn't the Kindle. And I can definitely use a social network that isn't Facebook. Or better yet, several, so a single provider can't hold me hostage.

The evils of technology can be avoided. But we need to be vigilant. Don't just reach mindlessly for each new shiny toy that comes your way.

Edit: Two days later...

2011-05-10