Our lives are not completely dominated by technology, but they might be one day.
The digital past
My journey into the digital world began in 1986 when I bought my first computer, an Atari. I used it primarily for making music, but it came with a word processing program. I could now compile all my poetry and song lyrics digitally; this computer changed my life. However, with all this change, never did I think my existence would come to rely so heavily on the digital world.
The Atari wasn’t that expensive or quick, and it had no hard drive. Each program was loaded from a floppy disc, and of course, it could only run one program at a time. The digital audio workstation I needed to put the music together was several thousand dollars, and it was several thousand times more complicated than anything I’d encountered. That was a program called Notator, it blew me away.
But today, all my files and that program are useless, because technology and formats have changed, rendering my digital files inoperable. This is one of the pitfalls of unthought out digital change.
Microsoft Office has had 15
versions in the last 17 years
Look at how many variations in technology companies like Microsoft have thrown at us. Microsoft Office has had 15 versions in the last 17 years. How can anyone keep up with that, or the cost? If we don’t learn from the confusion that rushed change can bring, our digital future might not be disrupted the way we are hoping.
The digital present
Since 1986, I have fallen further and further into the digital world. Today, it’s not possible for me to do my job, music, writing, communicating or even open the fridge without the aid of digital equipment.
Sure, I can still write my music and words down without a digital machine, but how would I ever get them out to anyone? I could try sending my stuff to a publisher written on a typewriter, or a hand-written score, but I imagine I would be rejected on that basis alone.
Digital has changed the world so much that when I look around at my friends today, I find that about 50% of them are people I have met online. I probably would have never met them if it wasn’t for social media and other online collaborations.
Not only do I stay in contact with them through digital mediums, I know more about them and their family and friends than I ever could if we didn’t share this experience. Because I want to develop a deeper connection to them.
But, some might say that that’s one of the problems with the digital world. For me, the digital world is just like the real world. If I don’t want to read or know something about someone, I turn away. This is easy in the digital sphere; I block them, turn off their notifications or unfriend them. It’s easier than having to say, “stop bugging me”. We can debate what this does to society, but I don’t let these things affect me.
I spend more time online than I do sleeping, and so do many people. I am doing my university degree online. And nothing could make more sense as it’s a bachelor’s of media and communications. The internet is the perfect place for this degree.
If I wanted to become a journalist the minimum entry requirement is this degree. Gone are the days when a person did a cadetship with a newspaper. It must be this way now because newspapers have changed to fit the digital world, and what you learn in this course meets their requirements.
Not everything has to or needs to be digital though. Would I want to go into an art gallery and see nothing but digital prints and holograms? No. But there is a library in America that has no paper books; just computers.
The digital future
Most major groups and organisations have something to say about what’s happening with digital technologies and how they will change our future. The World Economic Forum has a fascinating initiative called, Shaping the Future of Information and Entertainment. [i] It includes a section titled Human implications of digital media. It covers a sample of information on education, health, crime, education and skills, employment and emerging technologies, with studies and reports into the effects of the digital world on us.
As digital progress happens some can get left behind, causing a gulf between people who don’t have the opportunity be a part of this progress. The “digital divide” is the gap between people who do and do not have access to information and communication technologies. Taking everyone along the journey through digital transformation is vital, as we all have unique and necessary local information and stories to be included.
As we are only about 70 years into the digital revolution, I hope that things will balance out for everyone in time. Because the stories about how more people have mobile phones than toilets or access to clean running water are not only horrifying, but that sort of progress puts the cart before the horse. Deputy UN chief calls for urgent action to tackle global sanitation crisis. [ii]
Will the digital world take us into a post-human era? Several people are very worried about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates Warn About Artificial Intelligence. [iii]
Some fear the possibilities of what AI might do to us. But already AI is working to help do things that we struggle with. Like parking a car, air traffic control, trade stocks or suggest friends, like Facebook does. You might already use these technologies. Siri from Apple and Cortana from Microsoft are voice or text controlled built-in “intelligent assistants”, they help to search and aid with translation, texting and emails.
In the future, students will find that AI helps make them become more adaptive and help broaden their understanding of education. Maybe one day, AI and technological advancement can teach us how to understand more than simply learning through right-or-wrong answers. Along the way, we need to make sure, as some fear, that a madman does not get to own or control possible destructive technologies.
We design technologies to benefit us.
There’s little point to them otherwise
Mostly, human creations, artificial or not, haven’t wiped us out. While some still have the potential to do that, we design technologies to benefit us. There’s little point to them otherwise. Technology impacts almost everything today; the military has always been at the forefront of this change, but we still haven’t destroyed ourselves. While anything seems possible with advancements in technology, we need stronger rules around technology creation and more than simple trust or hope that we all do what’s best for humanity.