DIGITAL AMERICA

Monthly Archives: January 2014

I Have Nothing To Hide… But I Guess Nobody Likes To Be Spied On: A Response to Steven Levy’s Feature Article in Wired Magazine February 2014 Issue

// Posted by Kevin on 01/29/2014 (5:49 PM)

In the most recent installment of Wired Magazine, Steven Levy writes a feature article outlining the NSA spying issue, which highlights the effects the recent Edward Snowden debacle has had (and still continues to increase) on the way individuals… Read more

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In the most recent installment of Wired Magazine, Steven Levy writes a feature article outlining the NSA spying issue, which highlights the effects the recent Edward Snowden debacle has had (and still continues to increase) on the way individuals throughout the globe view the internet.  Essentially, Levy makes the case that the future of the internet is put at risk if individuals lack trust in their online security.  Given the NSA’s newly revealed ability to  access online records, many individuals are losing faith in their privacy when storing information on internet mega-giants such as Google, Yahoo!, etcetera.  Without this line of trust between internet service providers and consumers, the thriving success of the internet is at risk of being stalled, or worse case scenario, destroyed.

Levy does  a pretty good job of staying relatively detached during the piece.  He does not outright attack the NSA for their selected security measures, and he does not attest that internet giants should be doing much more to fight the government and keep all information private.  However, what he does do is bring to light an interesting issue in American society today in regards to the importance we place on the safety of our nation as opposed to our individual security.  If the answer to this question was purely that we want our individual information secure over anything else, then the internet would undoubtedly collapse.  No one would trust these gigantic company’s servers with their information because then their information would be at risk of being sent to the government.  However, that has not happened yet, and Levy in no way suggests that this will happen any time soon.  Losing faith in the internet is something that could happen after a long period of time, as individuals slowly decide that they cannot trust personal information over these servers that may be forced to release information to the American government.  This is especially a concern from civilians living outside of the United States, seeing as using services like Gmail and Yahoo! mail may result in a foreign government receiving their information, which appears as a large violation of their privacy.

In my opinion, I do not believe that there is any reason for anybody to get worked up about this issue and lose any faith in large companies such as Google and Yahoo!.  These companies have been at the forefront of American innovation for years, and have done nothing but provide the world with consistently better services.  ”But I don’t want to use a service that may leak my information to the government!  That is a violation to my privacy!” someone might say.  Well, yes, I suppose it is a violation to your privacy.  However, I don’t think that the United States Government has any interests in the selfies you took with your dog, nor the relationship troubles you’ve been emailing your friends about.  Whether its these subjects that you are using internet services to discuss is irrelevant.  Basically what I am trying to say is: If you have nothing to hide, then the government is not reading through your information.  And by “nothing to hide,” I don’t mean a small skeleton in the closet.  Of course everyone uses internet services to discuss somewhat sensitive, personal information; but the only sort of skeleton that the United States government is interested in is something of the atomic bomb, terrorist attack nature.  These NSA is not even tracking in-country criminal activity of any sort.  And even if they were, they could never convict anyone in court of any non-terrorist oriented crime because that would denote improperly obtaining evidence.

I do understand, however, that no one wants to be spied on.  I feel the same way, and of course the idea of the government having access to a large amount of information makes me nervous.  However, the question I couldn’t help but ask myself while reading this article is: If the government having access to my information could stop a terrorist attack, would I give it to them?  And the answer is always yes.  I know they have no actual interest in looking at my information, but simply receive a bulk of information in order to narrow it down to possible threats within the country.  As stated by US Army General, Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, “We recognize that if we do [give away our power to monitor information], our nation now is at greater risk for a terrorist attack.  So we’re going to do the right thing; we’re going to hold on to it, let people look at the options.  If there is a better option, put it on the table.”

Frankly, I would have to agree that there is no better option.  Unfortunately, America is a country susceptible to threats, and I for one would like to take all measures necessary to make sure that innocent Americans do not die from a terrorist attack.  If that means the NSA receiving my personal Gmail information in a gigantic lump with thousands of other individuals (including individuals from other countries), then so be it.  I have nothing to hide, and I know they won’t be interested in anything available on my account.  As long as you have nothing to hide (Note: Again, by nothing to hide, I mean no terrorist plots to threaten national safety), then the American government will have no interest in looking at your personal information, whether they have it on file or not.


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Pirates of Silicon Valley

// Posted by Alexandra on 01/28/2014 (10:32 PM)

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The Other Side of a Non-Bureaucratic Internet

// Posted by Sarah on 01/28/2014 (1:10 PM)

A common thread throughout “From Counterculture to Cyberculture” is the idea of technology and the Internet creating a world in which bureaucracy can be overthrown and social order is based on the users.  While the upsides of this are clear—the… Read more

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A common thread throughout “From Counterculture to Cyberculture” is the idea of technology and the Internet creating a world in which bureaucracy can be overthrown and social order is based on the users.  While the upsides of this are clear—the ability to communicate with people across the world through different chat rooms with no restrictions, an endless supply of information at your disposal at all times and even more, there are also other aspects we should consider.

With this idea of social order being based on us users we can look at the different implications this has had.  Nowadays as we surf the web—shopping, researching different topics, reading articles, whatever it is we do, we have cookies tracing our every move.  What we do on the Internet is being watched by someone, somewhere and often being used for others’ advantage.  Any website you access having your information and the ability to capitalize on it can be a scary thought to many of us but should something be done?

There is a dilemma created here because of our view of the Internet as a free market.  Advertisers and cookie users alike defend themselves by claiming that putting restrictions on such behavior on the web would eliminate this monumental idea of the bureaucracy-free Internet.  The Internet is said to be a place of self-regulation, a place always expanding where regulations would be minimally helpful in a world dominated by hackers and technological geniuses.

The real debate here is whether we are willing to let these companies capitalize on our habits and interests.  It seems harmless to a lot of us, these companies are just using this to tailor to our interests.  So what if an ad for a retail store trying to sell me dresses pops up right after I was previously looking for exactly that?  Honestly, it’s convenient a lot of the time.  I personally don’t see much harm in the process but this whole lack of security may be troubling to others.

With this problem and more and more store’s records being hacked for credit card and identity information the Internet seems to becoming less safe by the day.  So while this social order encompassing all users and lacking effective regulation may not provide for the ideal Internet as describe by so many of the New Communalists and progressive technological thinkers.

 

You can read more about the debate of advertisement tracking here:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/02/im-being-followed-how-google-151-and-104-other-companies-151-are-tracking-me-on-the-web/253758/


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The loneliness of Social Media

// Posted by Alexandra on 01/26/2014 (11:13 PM)

The Innovation of Loneliness

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The Innovation of Loneliness


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The New Socialism: Who really benefits?

// Posted by Alexandra on 01/26/2014 (11:02 PM)

 

In an article The New Socialism in the magazine The Wired, the author describes internet sharing as a form of new socialism. That the way we behave online is reminiscent of this political ideology based on equality. Websites… Read more

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In an article The New Socialism in the magazine The Wired, the author describes internet sharing as a form of new socialism. That the way we behave online is reminiscent of this political ideology based on equality. Websites such as Wikipedia, Kiva, Craigslist, and Facebook have cultivated a culture of sharing. Sharing information between friends, families, neighbors, and all citizens. People post, tweet, write, and review online for no personal gain or profit. While this type of behavior sounds very similar to the positive attributes that define the basis of socialism, it holds the potential to obtain the negative qualities as well.

We view the interest as a free and equal medium in which all people can access the information that is a necessity within our current society. But this is not always the case. For those without the means, which currently are quite costly, to access this information suffer from what is known as the digital divide. The digital divide is an economic inequality between groups and people in terms of their ability to access information. In the twentieth century we expect people to be able to answer emails at anytime, look up with answers to any questions, and essentially be plugged in 24 hours a day. While popular and business culture has adapted to technology that is available, not all demographics of the world’s population have. This creates a divide between those who can assess all the information and sharing that we feel should be free. Instead the internet and the culture that has developed around isolates and prevents people who can not afford the means necessary to access it from the financial benefits and opportunities as others.

Imagine what your life would be like without a personal laptop and smart phone. Think about the expectations that our teachers and bosses have for the quality, nature, and time frame that our work is to be completed in. Would you be able to meet those expectations without the use of expensive technology that has become integral in our lives? While the ability to share information freely and equally resembles the foundations of socialism, the means necessary to access the information continues to create economic divisions within the populations of every nation.


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“Information Wants to Be Free”: The Wiki Model

// Posted by Piper on 01/26/2014 (10:41 PM)

Creator of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, Speaks at TED Conference in 2005

Jimmy Wales: How a Ragtag Band Created Wikipedia

“Wikipedia begins with a very radical idea, and that’s for all of us

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Creator of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, Speaks at TED Conference in 2005

Jimmy Wales: How a Ragtag Band Created Wikipedia

“Wikipedia begins with a very radical idea, and that’s for all of us to imagine a world where every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge, and that’s what we’re doing.”

– Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia creator

It no surprise that the freely-licensed Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, has foundations that can be traced back to the cyberculture movement and specifically the development of The WELL, one of the first online communities. As we discussed in class, the Wiki model is somewhat controversial and interesting. Watching the 2005 TED talk by Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales furthered the connections we had made in class about free information and self-governing systems. Jimmy Wales’s Wiki Model fosters a “community” much like the one created by The WELL. This community abides by a non-negotiable neutrality policy that upholds the social concept of cooperation, as Wikipedia does not take a stand on issues, but rather aims to give the public information they need to make good decisions. As explained by Wales, the governing of Wikipedia consists of a mix of consensus, some democracy (i.e. elected administrators have ability to delete pages but have to follow the rules), some aristocracy (votes by respected Wikipedians have more weight), and monarchy (the community entrusts in Wales for hard decisions). The Wikipedia community is “close-knit” and consists of ~600-1,000 people (in 2005) who are in constant communication within the community and outside of it. Interestingly, only about 18% (2005 estimate) of all the edits are done by anonymous users.

The Wiki Model, just like the countercultural to cyberculture movement, occurred organically: “The free-form nature of the Wiki software lets the community determine how it wants to interact.” For example, when someone in the community votes on a page’s deletion, it is more of a dialogue than a vote and members discuss the potential of the page and the progress that can be made on it, all while abiding by the neutrality policy.

Although the neutrality policy is strict, “anyone who wants to pitch in is in charge,” as said by Jimmy Wales, and further supports the self-governing ideals and breaks down hierarchy. I thought this structure was very directly related to the paragraph on p.224 (Chapter 7) about “nested hierarchies.” As discussed above, Wikipedia has some sort of nested hierarchies, but its existence does not necessarily prohibit equality: “…so hierarchies do indeed exist. But they are ubiquitously distributed, which renders them an egalitarian force.”

In general, I thought it was highly interesting that Wales had spoke about Wikipedia at this TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Conference, as it is considered “one of the most important networking events in the computer industry,” (p.211) and has very close connections to the Wired network, the GBN, and Digital Visionaries as a whole.

“Wiki model is the way we work, but we are not fanatical web anarchists. We are very flexible about the social methodology because it is ultimately the passion of the community is for the quality of the work, not necessarily for the process that we use to generate it.”

–Wales


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Hackers vs. Planners

// Posted by Eliza on 01/25/2014 (2:10 PM)

In Stuart Brand’s article, “Spacewar” he pulls apart and identifies the differences between these “hackers” and “planners.” At first I was a bit confused reading about these, so-called hackers, and how they would all get together in the forums to… Read more

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In Stuart Brand’s article, “Spacewar” he pulls apart and identifies the differences between these “hackers” and “planners.” At first I was a bit confused reading about these, so-called hackers, and how they would all get together in the forums to talk about hacking. Today, hackers have a negative connotation, as we associate them with trying to steal our personal information on the internet. However, in Brand’s article, hackers refers to these young and free-spirited  type of people who believe that all information should be free, i.e. The Hackers Ethics. These planners on the other hand, the professors and “old school” bunch, believe that you should never do anything for free. They are the thinkers, not the go getters. These planners want the hackers information and knowledge in order to sell it. The hackers were always a couple steps ahead of these planners, because they knew how to jump right into a computer, take it apart, and change its whole system for the better. The hackers did not care about the money part, they cared solely about the information.

After reading this article, I began thinking about which one I would be, a hacker or a planner. With some thinking, I decided I would definitely be a hacker. I am not one to sit around and map out my plan of action, but more of a “jump right in” kind of person. I love the aspect of the hacker that they do not plan, and they are willing to just start taking computers apart, adding different things and coming up with a faster and easier operating system. I commend them for believing in the idea that all information should be free. However, that is one part that I do not totally agree with. I know that if I came up with some sort of valuable code that Apple computer wanted, I would not want my hard work to be free. The world runs on the successes of people, these hackers have given people, globally, opportunities they never would of had otherwise. Information that can transform the world should never be free. What if these hackers and planners were terms used to describe us, which one would you be?

The internet is whole new world, transforming everything around us. Everyday people learn more and more about what the internet is capable of.  It is a place where, as Kevin Kelly writes, we are all equal. There is no hierarchy online, no class distribution, and no judgement. Freedom of speech at its highest form. Kelly talks about a new sort of socialism in his article. The idea that through the internet everyone is created equal, and there is no class structure. Would you agree with that? Would you say that every time you log on to a chat room, facebook, twitter, or any other website, everyone has the same sort of opportunities?


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Technology and Self-Esteem

// Posted by Emily on 01/20/2014 (2:49 PM)

I personally find the digital age in America to be somewhat sad and depressing. Interactions are less meaningful and the emphasis placed on technology is way too large. I worry about the future of the united states in many regards.… Read more

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I personally find the digital age in America to be somewhat sad and depressing. Interactions are less meaningful and the emphasis placed on technology is way too large. I worry about the future of the united states in many regards. The first being how our generation is far too obsessed with Facebook, Twitter, and in general bragging about experiences by uploading photo after photo. It has been proven that using these social media websites daily can contribute to lower self-esteem. We have been robbed of face to face (and in my opinion, more personal) relationships. Second, this reliance on media through the use cell phones, televisions, ipads, computers, etc. has created a divide in the relationships we have developed. It almost seems as if friendships and relationships are fake. Technology serves as a mask that we are all able to hide behind when communicating. We are so engulfed in social media that it is now a representation of who we are (or maybe rather who we want to be). I also have come to the conclusion that social media is a contributing factor to the failure of marriages. It is now MUCH easier to cheat through the use of technologies that connect us to anywhere in the world. We meet someone at a bar and can now pursue that person through phones, the internet, etc. In addition to this, social media/technology has given men the opportunity to be lazy. No longer do men pursue women and make an effort, it is as easy as sending a simple text. Compared to the courting men used to do, which involves meeting familes/parents, etc. technology has created an easy way out of having to do so. Lastly, technology has largely contributed to low self esteem and body image issues. Technology enforces an “ideal” but impossible standard of beauty through advertising models, makeup products, etc. This automatically has caused the world to be an unhappier place than it used to be. We cannot deny that we are all addicted to technology, and it is now a NECESSITY in our daily lives and routines. I don’t think it would be possible to live a day without it, which is quite sad and quite frightening.

These two links are articles about the possible repercussions using facebook can have on self esteem:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-addicts-may-have-lower-self-esteem-says-study/

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/10/04/facebook-happiness-and-self-esteem/

While technology has generated disadvantages in the world, I do think our country has benefitted as well. The progression of technology and technological devices is amazing, and has given us the capacity to do/research just about anything. It is incredible that we can connect with someone in Australia, or research online about an event that happened hundreds of years ago. Our culture has evolved into an extremely intelligent one, and we can accredit some of that to technology.

One thing I have found very interesting so far about the book is the protest and objection of technology by college students. You would think that they would embrace something so new and exciting, as it turns out they were very closed off to the idea. Talking about the advancement of technology with my parents has really put it into perspective. Life was so simple and to my surprise sometimes I think I would prefer to be technology free, and to be able to experience the simplicity they did. We are so often caught up in the lives of others, when we really should just be concerned about our own. It is troubling to think about what the future holds for our children. Will there be flying cars and cell phones programmed into our arms? It is scary to think about, but the fact of the matter is is that our parents’ generation had no idea what was coming, and we won’t either. I hate that I use expressions such as “fired up” and “strung out.” I don’t like the describing our living human bodies as a computerized, inanimate machine. It should not be this way.


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Changing Perceptions In Regards To Computers and Technology

// Posted by Kevin on 01/20/2014 (11:33 AM)

Stewart Brand

Chapters 1 and 2 of From Counterculture to Cyberculture discusses the early movements towards accepting technology and seeing the vast potential of computers.  As discussed in Chapter 1, a protest was held at the University of California… Read more

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Stewart Brand

Chapters 1 and 2 of From Counterculture to Cyberculture discusses the early movements towards accepting technology and seeing the vast potential of computers.  As discussed in Chapter 1, a protest was held at the University of California on December 2nd, 1964 where student leader, Mario Savio, gave a poetic speech protesting the notion of students being regarded as machines.  His words expressed the fear students held regarding becoming merely a part of the machine, and expressed how they wanted to be treated as individuals with the freedoms to choose their own path.  In many ways, this student fear of being utilized similar to computational devices was largely due to the military being the most common use for computers at the time.  As a result, there was this concern rising from the younger generation that they themselves would become governmental tools.

However, a large force working to change this perception of computers and technology was the counterculture movement developing throughout the younger generation.  This movement was characterized by drug use and a sense of community.  Communes started to spread across the country, yet were most centralized in San Francisco, CA.  These communes provides locations for individuals to live in harmony, while experimenting with psychedelic drugs such as LSD.  LSD was a drug that many attest made them feel as if they were part of something larger, which made individuals feel more comfortable with the idea of being part of a global community.  Obviously this is much farther down the line, but I want to stress the idea that this acceptance of a global community was a very crucial step in seeing the value of computers and technology.  This level of acceptance marked a change from the periods of protest, such as those at the University of California in 1964, which created a pathway for individuals such as Stewart Brand (pictured above) to push the envelope for this larger, tech-based community.

Stewart Brand played a huge part in this movement primarily by making connections with various individuals on the front-end of the counterculture movement.  He travelled frequently between San Francisco and New York City, making friends everywhere he went in order to extend his network of contacts leading up to the cyberculture movement.  As his network extended, he prepared for the release of the Whole Earth Catalog, which was a magazine pertaining largely to the counterculture and cyberculture movement developing in the United States.  Moving forward, this magazine would serve as a base to grow and develop these movements, as Stewart Brand was able to connect visionaries across the country and allow for collaboration amongst these individuals.  In essence, the counterculture movement and Stewart Brands efforts to expose developing ideas marked the period of changing perceptions in regards to computers and technology.


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The Paradoxical Freedom of Technology

// Posted by Cassaundra on 01/19/2014 (11:11 PM)

Cassaundra Fincke

 

The first two chapters of From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner address some interesting historical events that have heavily contributed to today’s culture surrounding technology.  One of Turner’s discussions which I found particularly interesting deals with… Read more

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Cassaundra Fincke

 

The first two chapters of From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner address some interesting historical events that have heavily contributed to today’s culture surrounding technology.  One of Turner’s discussions which I found particularly interesting deals with the student stigma surrounding computational terms. In the 1960s, the advances in technology, particularly concerning the military, gave this new technology a sense of power. As such, people began likening human functions and states to terms used to describe machinery. For example, the term “networks,” which is an operating system in a computer, began to be used to describe the inner workings of the human brain. Students in the 1960s presented a backlash against this movement as they did not want to be thought of as merely one bit of functionality in an overall machine. However, this idea is not completely extinct in present times.

Although people still use computational terms, I do not believe they have the same negative stigma or frequency they once did. In my personal experience at college, I find the times that I tend to think of my brain as a computer or calculator are linked to certain subject matters. For example, when I am working on an analysis such as this, I feel that my brain is more humanistic in that it perceives things differently than others thus allowing me to have a different opinion or perception than someone else. This is because an analysis is very opinion-oriented, and thus unique for every individual. Conversely, I have always felt a bit more mechanic and like part of a process when working on a math or science equation as there is usually a designated way to solve these problems making people just a part of the equation. For someone like me who is not very gifted in these areas, it can be comforting to know that there is a specific method I need only “plug into” my mind to carry out. However, I would be just as troubled as the students who revolted if this mentality permeated into all areas of life. While power is something virtually everyone seeks and values, it is dehumanizing to associate this power with such a rigid piece of technology, like a computer.

Interestingly enough, we now tend to believe that technology has freed us rather than constrained and dehumanized us. But is this really the case? Technologies like cell phones and computers, which were originally meant to keep us connected can often now do just the opposite. All too often people are glued to their phones while in the middle of an in-person “conversation” only contributing to the topic by mechanically muttering “yeah” at the appropriate times. We tend to Google search answers to opinion questions rather than thinking through things for ourselves. Sometimes people even text or call each other from different rooms in the house. By engaging in this behavior, I believe we are dehumanizing ourselves in a manner of speaking in that we are abusing our technology (freedom). Technology can offer much assistance in our quest for various levels of power. However, we all too often let it turn us into mindless, “plugged-in” machines who are on auto pilot in our daily lives rather than being fully engaged.


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The Beginning of The End

// Posted by Cora on 01/17/2014 (5:23 PM)

The opening chapters of Fred Turner’s, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, explore the historical context of  the utopian vision of computing technology as well as the metaphors, language, ideas, and movements that are linked to it.  He largely focuses on… Read more

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The opening chapters of Fred Turner’s, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, explore the historical context of  the utopian vision of computing technology as well as the metaphors, language, ideas, and movements that are linked to it.  He largely focuses on Stewart Brand, a networker who founded the Whole Earth Catalog and WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) which were both focused on creating an openminded and flexible kind of culture.  Brand was an important figure in the idea of the Merry Pranksters as well as in the MIT media Lab.  From the 1960′s through the 1980′s, he experienced diverse environments and sought to link projects and people and promote new ways of thinking.  Brand’s enterprises over those two decades of “shifting politics”, Turner suggests, appear as precursors to the World Wide Web.

Turner also discusses the public perspective in 1967 and the fear and unrest that arose as computers were viewed as technologies of dehumanization, centralized bureaucracy, and the rationalization of human life.  Computers were an overt symbol of the military and the centralization of power.  People feared the creation of an automated society that was a potential threat to their freedom.  In the 1990′s, however, computers had served as the defining devices of cold war technocracy and emerged as the symbols of its transformation. Two decades after the end of the Vietnam War and the fading of the American counter culture, computers somehow seemed poised to bring to life the countercultural dream of empowered individualism, collaborative community, and spiritual communion (2).  It is interesting how in just thirty years, the cultural meaning of information technology shifted so drastically.  The power of computing, once seen a threat to freedom and a individuality, was soon perceived as encouraging to personal freedom, collaboration, dispersed authority, and knowledge.

After learning about the shift in perspective of technology from the 1960′s to the 1990′s, it is interesting to consider the view of the subject in my generation.  It is overly evident how ingrained technology is in our society today, particularly among the youth.  Walking around campus, it is almost rare to see a student hands-free, head up, taking in their immediate environment and the individuals who occupy it.  It is not hard to understand technologies’ massive role in influencing the world around us.  iPhones have replaced the need for face-to-face conversations and computers are now the popular substitute for books, newspapers, and magazines.  Seven-year-olds are asking for cellphones and computers as birthday gifts instead of bicycles or games.  Dinner conversations have taken a backseat to technological entertainment and car rides are often silent as everyone is “plugged-in”.  It is undeniable; we live in the digital age.

I often find these observations to be depressing, only reminders of how genuine social interactions have seemingly diminished into thin air.  It is almost as if someone’s texting or Facebook/Twitter/Instgram page is more of a representation of who they are than the individual him/herself.  For the majority of young people, technology is their primary device for communication and expression.  In my opinion, this only hinders their personable development as they spend increasing amounts of time focused on their digital appearence as well as the personalities portrayed by others.  Technology can often limit the imagination and creativity of young minds as they are bombarded with distractions on the web that are more often than not- well, garbage.   Some might argue that I have a biased view on how our generations technological networks have influenced our social interactions and that is probably accurate.  My opinion is formed by personal experience, however, and I tend to see technology today as a tool for a shallow interconnectedness that, ultimately, isolates us from one another. To me, this is where the irony lies.  A device created to connect humanity on a broad scale has the effect of distancing us when we are, physically, the closest.

 


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