The Net.Worker

By Alan P. Balutis

Blog archive

Technology’s unintended consequences: No life, no privacy and 'oh no!'

Long plane flights can give one a chance to catch up on reading backlogs. The trip out and back to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show-Government event provided that opportunity for me. Here are some recent articles that I’d recommend to you.

Look at this article from Time Out New York for an interesting, if somewhat imperfect, discussion about how social media is affecting life in a big city. It asks the question: “Could our compulsive documentation of our lives detract from the experience of really living them?” The author, Sharon Steel, is talking about New York City:

“This is changing the way that we consume our city – we’re increasingly taking it in secondhand or filtering it through our own editorial lens, watching the most exciting part of a live show via a three-inch screen, distracting ourselves from an exquisite dessert because we’re framing it for a Facebook pos, or boiling down the best moments of our night to 140 characters. We who pride ourselves on leading the creative charge are becoming tourists in our own lives, in our own city.”

But she could have been writing about any city or many experiences today.

There have been no end to articles about WikiLeaks, but I found one of the most thoughtful to be this article in the City Journal. Theodore Dalrymple argues that the dissolution of privacy is a fundamental aim of totalitarianism, and concludes that “WikiLeaks has assumed the role of censor to the world, a role that requires an astonishing moral grandiosity and arrogance to have assumed.”

On a related topic, I enjoyed Natasha Singer’s article “Technology Outpaces Privacy (Yet Again)” in the New York Times. Singer asks, “How far does consumer privacy protection lag behind data collection systems, those advanced technologies that media companies use to gather, share and profit from our personal information?” Too far, she concludes, after an interesting historical journey that starts with the 19th century law review article by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, which essentially laid the legal foundation for protecting Americans’ privacy rights.

Finally, a sometimes funny, sometimes scary, article: “When Computers Go Wrong.” Stewart Mitchell charts the world’s ten most calamitous computer disasters. My two favorites were the Mars climate orbiter and when the world teetered on the brink of World War III. In the first,  the orbiter activated its landing rockets when it was still miles above the planet, exhausted its fuel supply and then crashed. In the second, the Soviet’s missile detection system misread a solar reflection as a U.S. missile attack, “seeing" five nuclear weapons hurtling towards mother Russia. Tragedy was averted only because a army colonel on duty on the time trusted his instincts that one wouldn’t start a world war with five missiles.

My thanks to two wonderful colleagues, Norm Jacknis in New York and Martin Stewart-Weeks in Australia, for bringing these pieces to my attention.

Posted on Jan 11, 2011 at 12:20 PM

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Reader comments

Wed, Jan 12, 2011

I always remember a quote from a small book published in the early 1970's, entitled "Technology and Society" -- "We invent technology, and then technology reinvents us." We have a habit of not understanding the possibilities and probabilities of the intended and unintended real consequences of the technologies we dream up. I cast a very wary eye on the internet, social media and the "cloud," even though I am being dragged along for the ride.

Wed, Jan 12, 2011 Earth

What is scary to me is not that humanity created systems in which we could annihilate all life on earth, and would have done so were it not for the whim of one individual to stop it, that is to be expected from some segments of humanity. What is scary to me is that these occurrences are entirely predictable given that segments proclivity for creating systems that can annihilate all life on earth and put them in place with insufficient oversight and yet not rise up to demand that that segment of society be identified and placed in rubber coated rooms. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, is “mutually assured destruction” not statistically certain otherwise? The meek shall inherent the earth, but whether it will still be able to sustain them at that point is questionable.

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