Angst and hope; dinner companions

Got into a good laser-focused conversation on Christmas Day with my sister-in-law on whether our societies are raising people who don’t understand how underlying technologies work for everyday devices, and if that’s true, whether it really matters. How many people can say they had that sort of topic batted around the dining room table over top of the dry turkey and off-color gravy?

Older generations still marvel at take-off that 200 tons of metal and plastic can lift off the runway, the same way they wonder how the small device in their hand is able to connect without wires to someone across the continent.  My sister-in-law and I agreed that the younger generations (under 20) don’t seem to think about these things. Where we diverged is in whether that should provoke anxiety or hope. I’ve long-held the opinion that we should be working towards a world where the devices we use most are the devices we think of least. We’re there with mobile phones (the dumb ones) and we’re almost there with the smart ones too. I compare it to refrigerators, televisions, and automobile engines. When they arrived on the scene, their respective technologies stirred extreme awe and interest. Over time that curiosity waned, to the point now where only highly trained technicians are able open up the back, or hood, and figure out what’s going on. And that, I believe, is as it should be. Being unencumbered by the technical knowledge does not prevent the majority of humanity to benefit from the technical capabilities. My sister-in-law, while acknowledging that, worries that by not encouraging and stimulating a sense of curiosity and desire to look “under the hood”, to want to program a device to do something it wasn’t originally designed to do, we are surrendering our future to those nations that will.  Good point.

Unlike many family conversations across the country that day, this one did not end in bitter words of recrimination and feelings of regret because ultimately, there is no way to foresee the future. Perhaps we are boxing ourselves in and will surrender knowledge completely to those who don’t represent our best interests. On the other hand, technology has exponentially enabled so much more in the last twenty years than even our wildest futurists predicted. The answer is, we just don’t know.

About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

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