I was sitting in a room on the Microsoft campus watching the Harvard debate team take on Northwest University, the topic was “The Internet: Does it dumb us down or enlighten us?” It really could have been called is that glass half full or half empty. When I was first starting in the industry we discussed and promoted the idea of the information age. It is interesting in that this was before the advent of the modern internet. The information age at the time was purely defined within the context of the Personal Computer, the possibilities seemed limitless with a PC. By todays standards that seems rather drab. We now have access to information at the push of a button, when we want it, when we need it, wherever we may be. We receive news updates at near real-time pushed to us at the time the actual event has occurred or even occurring. Are we better off by these developments in technology or are we more isolated than we have ever been? I read the news every day and every minute a controversial issue is taken and expanded into something bigger than historically it ever would have been before the advent of the information age. As we sit there glued to out monitor seeing the history of the globe unfold before us from the confines of our dark little office. Internalizing it all while experiencing nothing.
Are their benefits to all this technological innovation? You bet. Drive down a freeway and you may see an Amber Alert letting you know a child has been kidnapped. Getting this information out quickly and to as many people as possible saves lives. The ability to connect with anyone at anytime has been enhanced with mobility – voice, text messaging, email, Facebook etc..With mapping we can now find our way around any major city regardless of if we have ever been there before (though I will add there is a certain excitement in being lost in a foreign place). You’re in home living room experience has greatly been enhanced with the convergence of everything to digital – from television to voice and it’s all wireless. Your TV screens are flat and 60 inches. We are one the verge and experiencing major revolutions in health care, communications, commerce, mobility, etc..it’s a long list that touches everything we know. It’s a fast-moving train that will, and is, hitting super-sonic speeds.
Yet with all this rapid change, things at times seem darker than ever. Looking back at the horrific shooting in Tuscon or the massacre at Virginia Tech a few years ago there is an air of fear among us all. There will always be individuals or groups that do not fit into the general society, they are not all as bad as what happened in Tuscon or Blacksburg, but they may be misguided. The age of information has a way of providing a steady diet of what they need to justify their views and to cement some very extreme beliefs. When the two fore mentioned events happened, what is one of the first places investigators look? They want to see where the individuals hung out on the web and get insight into their day-to-day lives. A lot of extremism can be found on in the internet and sometimes it is brutal in its content. In fact it is a place that allows these hateful viewpoints to organically grow. Whatever your anger is, it can find a home in the information age. Our media seems intent on feeding us a steady diet of fear and technology enables that to reach us wherever we may be. That filters down the individuals, who given the right skill scan mass market themselves as somehow more enlightened than the rest of society. There are no lack of individuals throughout history who claimed to “know”. Their “enlightenment” has led to some of the gravest travesties of human kind.
One big issue with all this information is it allows people to gravitate to places where they only hear the views they want to hear, not listening, but dictating. We see it in television. We hear it on the radio. We gravitate to it on the internet. All the time dragging us farther to the left or harder to the right. We soak in what we want and tune out we don’t want to hear. Not even trying to understand the validity of an opposing point of view. Searching only for statements to belittle the opposition. In the process only fueling anger and rage. It seems dialog is being lost between individuals and replaced with anger and a series of screaming contortions that reflect the mood of society
The silver lining in all this is that we as a just society can do better. We can listen to all the information and act upon it in a positive manner. At a time when we can live healthier based on all the great information we receive, obesity is a growing concern and continues to rise, increasing our health care costs along the way. We can confront extremism with generosity and compassion. In a society where we are always connected we are yet more alone then we ever were. In the end we are creating a society that is becoming increasingly withdrawn. Afraid to walk out our front door. Beyond what we know lurks out in the world something far worse lurks, what we don’t know. Though we may be communicating more we are doing less face to face communications. If we are becoming isolated and withdrawn from day-to-day society are we listening? Are we learning? Or are we just interpreting what we read? The internet should be about inclusion, but more importantly society should be about inclusion. That becomes a challenge when we do not physically or mentally confront what ills us by tying ourselves to the monitor. We are informed as our eyes are glued to the abyss, tuning out all that is around us.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 23, 2011