Lemme Google This Real Quick

I overheard a conversation between my coworkers, a 50-year-old guy from the Bronx and a second year engineering student, the other day where they were talking about the impact of the Internet on the younger generation. The conversation went something like this:

The 50-year-old from the Bronx: “Man you kids have it so easy. You grow up thinking that what you see on the internet is true, all of it. Because that’s where you get your information these days. My kid the other day told me to just “look it up”. The truth is, the Internet only confirms that the truth is what you want to believe. You only read articles that reaffirm your viewpoint. The internet doesn’t know everything. Back in the day, we didn’t have access to the Internet, and in our hometown, the information we got was what we got.” 

The second-year engineering student: “Lemme google this real quick.” 

It reminded me of an annotation Alex made in the “How Internet gets us” that I’m still thinking deeply about. She shares that “the internet doesn’t know everything, though, and it’s that kind of thinking that gets us into trouble. It’s not there to be a spouse, or a friend, or a person… it’s a receptacle of information that is both true and untrue, and it’s up to users to sift through that information and form their own opinions.” 

I still wonder if we use the web as a tool for our confirmation biases. I, too, used to believe that the world wide web was the infinite place where we could get answers to anything: what’s the name of the 50th president? How long is a flight to Japan? What does publishing mean? When we go on the web to search for answers to our curiosities, sometimes we go in wanting to information to support our underlying beliefs. Sometimes we don’t know anything at all, but the more times we see an article of information, the more we believe it is true. I wonder if it is the mere exposure effect that helps circulate our ideas of what the truth is. Gillian Fournier in “Psych Central” writes that the mere exposure effect is a “psychological phenomenon whereby people feel a preference for people or things simply because they are familiar.” If People Magazine, US Weekly, and Meghan Markle’s dad, and Meghan Markle’s dog shares that she hates Kate Middleton, then somehow somewhere the idea must be true right? 

We familiarize ourselves with the web, to a point where it feels a place we belong to. But I’m starting to believe that the web is not only one specific place, like a library. The web doesn’t know everything; so can it be one particular place? Does the web know the answer to what the web is? Maybe on a literal dictionary definition level, but from webpage to webpage, the web knows no more than us all. The web then feels more like little places clustered together as if a digital community. Similar to the idea we learned the last lecture, the internet was built to decentralize conglomerates of information so information can be boundlessly communicated everywhere. Can the web be the same? 

While reflecting the role of the web and the Internet on our daily lives, I couldn’t help but feel a little afraid. We have become so reliant on using the web to find answers to any of our questions. The web should not become our only lives, consuming us as a whole. The web is a place for us to create. We should hold the authority to choose the impact the web has on our lives. We can have offline and online conversations to make well-informed decisions on what truth is.

To continue my nostalgia in midst of these anxieties, I’ll do another mini digital detox by going to bed early and dreaming of a life without the web. Little did I know the nightmare is still waiting for me when I wake up. 

The Good, The Bad, and the Ever-Waser

It’s easy to put sets of beliefs into neat little categories, and I’m not saying this is a bad thing when Adam Gopnik does this in his article “The Information.” It’s a natural thing for us to do, to try and make sense of a complicated and confusing world by simplifying it. Our relationship with technology is complicated, so there’s relief when we simplify society’s relationship with it into three camps. On one extreme of the spectrum there’s the Never-Betters who hail the power and innovation of technology––they’re positive and optimistic. On the other extreme there’s the Better-Nevers who mourn for the past and fear the rapid change of technology––they’re negative and pessimistic. Right in the middle there’s the Ever-Wasers, who like the neutral party they are, believe that technology has always been a thing in modernity and that some people are going to enjoy the change and some people won’t, that these advancements bring positive effects and negative ones.

Like many binaries in life (sexuality or political preference for example) this Never-Better-Better-Never-Ever-Waser categorization falls on a spectrum, a sliding scale if you will and you can fall anywhere in between. These socially constructed binaries are a way of simplifying complicated relationships, and while they’re nice and easy they’re only a start to understanding these relationships and that while we may fall on the spectrum, we can also fall totally outside of it.

I’m not going to spend this blog post deconstructing binaries, and if we’re using Gopnik’s Never-Better-Better-Never-Ever-Waser binary then I’d have to say I fall in the Ever-Waser box, with a slight inclination to Never-Better (but I don’t sport rose-coloured glasses). As for society as a whole, well they’re all over the map and I don’t think you can make such a sweeping generalization to where they fall on the spectrum (or outside of it). As for myself, I don’t believe in new technology being inherently good, and I also don’t believe in it being evil. New technology simply is, and it depends on how we use it that makes it good or bad.

Whenever we’re debating the positives and negatives of our relationship with new technology I always have Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man running through my brain. Yes, this is crazy dated since it’s from the 60s, and wow times certainly have changed, but I think the core of what he was saying still remains. Mark Federman breaks down this phrase in his essay “What is the Meaning of the Medium is the Message.” The “message” is not “the content or use of the innovation, but the change in inter-personal dynamics that the innovation brings with it.” The “medium” is any extension of ourselves, something that allows us “to do more than our bodies could do on their own.” The point that McLuhan is trying to make is that we can understand the nature of these innovations through the behavioral changes they create within our society. It’s not the content of the internet that matters, it’s how it changes our behaviour that reveals something about us and therefore the medium (the internet). The medium is neither good nor bad, it’s how we interact with it that decides that.

Which brings me to Frank Chimero’s piece “The Good Room,” where he writes “technology’s influence is not a problem to solve through dominance; it’s a situation to navigate through clear goals and critical thinking. Attentiveness is key.” It’s this critical thinking that is key when we engage with technology. We need to consider if what we’re doing is for the betterment of society or not. Unfortunately, what a “better” world is depends on the person you ask. This blog post is not going to deconstruct the values of good and evil and the subjectivity of that either.

Technologies live and die, change and evolve and they are always going to benefit someone, and simultaneously be a detriment to someone else. It all depends on who you are and how you’ll use the new innovation. One can hope for that utopian vision of open knowledge and the infinite expansion of the mind, and hopefully prevent a Terminator-esque robot take-over dystopia but in the end the choice is yours.




Utopia or Dystopia? – PUB802 REFLECTION

“I do not fear computers. I fear lack of them.”

— Isaac Asimov

 

Isaac Asimov’s quote puts him in Adam Gopnik’s defined category as a “Never-Better”: an optimistic who has embraced technological change. The issue with this overly-trusting approach is already highlighted in the quote that the reliance on computers and other technology that has the internet is a serious concern for the modern age. At a first glance, the fear of not having computers sounds extreme, but I am one of those people who has a miniature panic attack when I reach for my pocket and realize there is a possibility I may have forgotten my phone in class or at the restaurant I just left. There was a time when phone calls were exclusively done through landlines, but now? To leave one’s phone behind during a night out? Unthinkable. My phone is what I use to track which bus stop to get off at, to listen to music or podcasts during my commute, to alert my friends of my arrival, to take pictures documenting my night, and to order an Uber if need be. Being without my phone makes me feels uncomfortably vulnerable. And it is not just me — this is major cultural change. I like books, but I have never felt dependent on them.

So I will be the first to admit that I am reliant on technology. But does that mean that I trust technology? Am I a Better-Never; a believer that we are living in the Golden Age of technology and that every advancement signifies progress, an evolution worth celebrating? Not necessarily.

Upon being given the prompt, my first instinct was to say that I align myself with the Never-Waser’s. It is an imperfect binary, but I do not think modern technology will be our ruin, nor am I ready to start mourning books when my own collection of hardcovers is large and steadily growing. In many ways, I think what is happening now is not unlike what has happened throughout history where the older generation is nostalgic for a time when things worked differently and human connection was less complicated. There was a time when the older generation feared collecting information in books would mean having a less impressive memory palace and that reading was an antisocial behaviour that should be discouraged. Back in my day, kids used to play outside with their friends! I do not think it is unrealistic to assume that one day a new mode of technology will come out and those in my generation will share tweets and Facebook posts about how different things are. We already do to an extent—hey guys, remember when everyone had to wait their turn to use that one family computer and it used to take forever for one page to load? At present, my generation’s mentality has been “you kids have it so much easier than we did.” We are nostalgic about the shows we would watch during our childhood, but the technology we grew up with has only gotten faster and more intuitive, so maybe there has, in fact, been a recognizable shift.

I cannot conceive of my life without the internet, but not every change it has brought has benefitted humankind. Departing with the Never-Waser mentality of continuity, the following is a list of capabilities that distinguish the computer or the internet from any technology that came before it:

PROS:

  • Greater capability to bring people together
  • Widespread access to knowledge (knowledge of abuses, protests, revolutions)
  • Passive social connections
  • Networking
  • Near-immediate access to food, clothes, and anything else
  • Cultivating communities of people who share a common interest or goal
  • Fundraising (aka America’s healthcare system)
  • Portfolio visibility
  • New accessibility services and a job market that enables freelancing

It is amazing to reflect on how many creative projects and medical procedures like transition surgeries that the internet has made possible. The Parkland Teens’ protest for gun-control that went viral would not have been possible without the internet. It has enabled the global, widespread sharing of information in a way that far exceeds print. But at the same time, it has allowed for the spread of misinformation on an equally astronomical scale. Fraud has never been easier. Sure, there was a time when Johannes Gutenberg would print out indulgences and sell them to God-fearing Christians for a pretty penny, but that is nothing in comparison to how many Nigerian Prince scams have been ran since the advent of the internet. Catfishing is a serious problem and one that can lead to major trauma and depression for those who have experienced it. There has also been the advent of a new type of celebrity – the influencer. My generation loves them. The majority of them are young women who post pictures of themselves living and idealistic lifestyle full of travel, eating, shopping, and visiting anywhere they can to get the perfect shot for Instagram. Their online pages are full of hiding promotions for sponsored products that their followers are encouraged to buy to mimic this unrealistic lifestyle. The Kardashians are a good example of this phenomena.

One of the many issues with capitalism is that it profits from making people feel as depressed and unfulfilled as possible in order to sell them products that promise to provide happiness and fulfilment. Influencers are amazing at creating the envy and disillusionment that capitalism thrives at and they are professionals at promoting materialistic solutions that are packaged as “inspirational.” But these influencers are not reliable, and many are willing to promote products that are dangerous and unethical. The internet has been capitalism’s playground, which leads me to my con list:

CONS

  • The widespread sharing of false information
  • The gathering of racists and misogynists who validate each other
  • Sponsored advertising parading as content
  • Catfishing and general fraud
  • Cyberstalking and general lack of privacy
  • Anonymity
  • Revenge porn
  • Filters leading to increased dysphoria
  • Repaying labour with “exposure”

It is frustrating to be both skeptical of and reliant on technology. Like Never-Betters, I am optimistic that technology will continue to evolve and enable new forms of knowledge, connection, communication, innovation, and art to emerge. Like Better-Nevers, I am pessimistically concerned that our technology will continue to be abused and exploited by scammers, neo-nazis, and capitalistic companies like Amazon and Ticketmaster. In a way, the internet is like the megaphone. It is not inherently good (sorry, Never-Betters) nor is it an inherent threat to our humanity (sorry, Better-Nevers). Instead, it is a tool that is unmatched in its capability to magnify and enable the very best and worst of human behaviour.

The “Collectively-Taking-Control-of-our-Destinyers” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Placing people into categories has long been a device to position ourselves with and simultaneously against others. From race to gender, we often think of characteristics (socially constructed or otherwise) as confined to neat little self-contained boxes as opposed to existing fluidly on a spectrum. In his 2011 New Yorker article “The Information”, Adam Gopnik continues this tradition by describing three frames that we can use to understand humans relationships to technologies. Gopnik’s categories, which in my view are problematically reductionist, break down people into belonging to the “never-better”, the “better-nevers”, and the “ever-wasers”. In other words

1) those who believe in an upward progress where life is perpetually being improved upon because advances in technology

2) the nostalgic or neo-Luddite type who see changes in technology as de-evolution

3) and the more ambivalent group that that see the modern age as defined by changing technology that will please some and displease others.

Although Gopnik has you believe these groups are distinct and mutually exclusive, it would be hard to argue that any one person or society’s relationship to technology could neatly be reduced and packeded up into such opposing ideologies. Instead, I propose that we all contain these attitudes simultaneously—holding different attitudes about different technologies, or even holding different attitudes about the same technology. As someone who grew up in an age before the internet was widespread, I both hold the belief that the internet has improved my life drastically, while simultaneously longing for the days before it was co-opted as a tool for capitalist gains through advertising and other forms of commodification.

Socially we are not nearly as dogmatic or reducionary as these frames provided. Opinions on technologies are deeply situation to time, place, capital, powder, and how specific technologies are used—including by and for whom.

Furthermore, our attitudes about technologies cannot be understood apart from the specific social context and unequal distribution of capital and power from which they originate. There is a tendency to ascribe an innate teleology to technological development, and to ignore the social processes through which advancements in technology are made. This might explain why Gopnik divides people into the categories of “never-betters” and “better-nevers”, with the only third option being pure ambivalence. I would suggest that in opposition to all of these categories, there are those of us who believe that technology is a tool that can be used towards better or worse ends. In order to do this, however we need to ditch the laisse-faire attitude towards technological development, and realize that we do not only interpret advancements in technology, but we create, shape, and determine the direction they take. The three categories proposed position society as passive interpreters to technological advances where instead we should position ourselves as an active part in their creation. Since these category don’t work, perhaps we should fall into the “collectively-taking-control-of-our-destinyers”. Maybe we should view technology as Marx viewed philosophy in his eleventh Theses on Feurback—“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”(Marx, 1845).

Which Cheese You Like Will Determine How The Internet Is Inside You!!!

Avvai K

There was a period a few years ago when Buzzfeed quizzes were a popular thing – maybe they still are. Here are a few I pulled from Buzzfeed.com:

It was fun and I think it was so popular because (other than the sheer absurdity of it) perhaps a small part of us felt like we were discovering more about ourselves.

I just did the cheese quiz. I’m swiss cheese – I wear my emotions right on my sleeve and am a terrible liar. I’m not edgy because I prefer to savor the best parts of life, and people admire me for that.

That was slightly entertaining to know, but now what?… I guess I continue on with my life.

By the end of Gopnik’s article, The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us, I felt similar to how I felt after all those Buzzfeed quizzes…the feeling of so what? What do I do with this label now?  Gopnik categorizes people of how they react to technology as Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers. To me, this just confusing terms for what can be plainly said as pessimists, optimists, and realists. Using examples and quotes, Gopnik did a great job of describing the general thoughts of people who may identify themselves with the categories. I also appreciated him trying to show some of the faults of thinking about technology in one particular way. I don’t think one person can just be one type of class. Even just narrowing in on the web, it’s very diverse, and it might be impossible to feel the same about all aspects of it. I am definitely a little bit of all three. But again so what? I know how I react to the Internet and how other people may think about it..it’s nothing new. What do I do with this information now?

Gopnik briefly touches on the most interesting part of the whole article:

“The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user.”

I’m interpreting this as how we use the web matters.  This article would have been far more interesting if Gopnik dug deeper into how these classes of people use the web. What we think of the Internet to how we use the internet may or may not be related. As a personal example, I’m a Better-Never when it comes to Facebook and yet I still use it and contribute to it. It’s where all my friends are connecting and keeping in touch. I would have been just as happy sticking to the telephone or snail mail but everyone’s on Facebook and I’d like to be a part of it. No matter what we think of the Internet, it’s still part of our daily life and as Gopnik and this week’s reading by Chimero (The Good Room mentions, we live in it now, and whether we like our home or not we still have to use it and how we use it is important to understand.

I’m currently observing my housemates sitting in the living room as I write this. I ask my first housemate, Jayme, what she thinks of the Internet. (I made them all read this article to help me with this reflection). She says she’s a Never-Better. I ask her what she spends the majority of her internet time doing. She admits she spends most of her time online scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and binge-watching Netflix. I’ll pull a Gopnik and coin a term for this: The Passive Scroller. I turn to my other housemate, Sam. He’s a Better-Never. He uses the Internet when he has to for school (research and accessing scholarly articles). He has no social media but uses the Internet as an alternative telephone to chat with his friends via Skype or e-mail. He says he rather spend time in nature. Sam is a Bare-Minimumer.  The final housemate is Kyle. He says he relates with a Better-Waser. When he’s on the Internet, he’s almost always reading articles on his favorite websites or accessing podcasts. For him, the Internet is a tool to expand his horizons and learn. He avoids passive entertainment on it. Kyle is a Life-Enhancer.

This is interesting to me. If we can be more aware of what we spend the most time doing on the Internet, maybe we can change how we even think or react to the Internet. Maybe Sam, who claims he’s a Better-Never, can learn that there are resources online to further his connection with nature (like the link that Chimero shared in his Good Room article:  “The Internet of Natural Things”. This may lead him to a better opinion of the Internet. Kyle who doesn’t approve of passive Netflix watching may be thrilled to know that there are tons of forums actively watching entertainment – discussing, analyzing, and critiquing it. Maybe Jayme, who’s slowly realizing how she’s spending her time on the Internet might seek out other stuff to do on the web like read about things she’s always been curious about, access water-color tutorials on YouTube and finally achieve her dreams of becoming a water-color painter. Who knows!

Of course, Passive Scroller, Bare Minimumer, and Life Enhancer are not the only ways people spend most of their time on the Internet.  I’m sure if I talked to more people I would get some really diverse ways of using the Internet. But I think it’s a more interesting and useful question. It has more of a potential for reflection and can lead to a change in behavior and thinking.

Fuzzy Wuzzy Was an Ever-Waser

No, I’m not comparing myself to the titular bear, but doesn’t all of this lingo remind anyone else of that tongue twister?

Anyways, let’s get down to it: Adam Gopnik, in his New Yorker article, “The Information,” lays out three categories of people, divided according to how they feel about the evolution of technology. The Never-Betters feel very optimistic about technology’s continued evolution; The Better-Nevers, as a foil, feel equally pessimistic. The Ever-Wasers have a more ambivalent relationship to technology—or, at least, they accept it for what it is currently and acknowledge that it will continue to evolve and change.

I’d sort myself into this third category. Quite frankly, the Golden Era rhetoric is getting a little tiring. I get that for people whose livelihood/identity was associated with the Internet at a specific point in its evolution, there’s more on the line. They have a horse in the race that I admittedly do not. I think also for my generation, who grew up as the Internet was growing up, maybe it’s easier for us to take these changes in stride.

But I also think that underlying this conversation is a bit of a blindspot regarding technology and evolution. Technology and media exists as a continuum, and it’s never really been stagnant. People have always been pushing forward—be it by combining different parts of the printing process into one mega machine, putting telephone’s in people’s homes, or building smaller (and then bigger) and smarter cell phones. Also, at every point in history, as technology has evolved, there’s been someone saying that it was so much better before  X existed, and that X is corrupting The Youth, ruining humanity’s collective existence, etc. Perhaps the issue is that technology evolves faster and more dramatically than we do.

There’s also a part of me that feels like the Golden Era rhetoric is ageist. Saying “the Internet/technology was better way back when” is at least similar to saying “my Internet/technology is better than your Internet/technology” (which, also, returning to my previous point, is more or less the same as “my generation’s music is better than your generation’s music”.) I feel like it goes hand in hand with “you had to be there”. But we weren’t.

Finally, an issue that was raised in this week’s readings that I feel relates back to this conversation is the issue of the Internet/technology being misused and generally evil. I resent the implication that humans for the first time in history are being mislead or being exposed to biased information. Media and news has always come from somewhere, and as long as it’s been coming from anywhere, the framing and colouring of the news has reflected the views/biases of the person writing the copy, or paying for the broadcast station.

Technology is not any better or worse than it’s ever been. It may be stronger and bigger, but I’m positive that in 20 years, someone will look back and call this a golden era. So, relax. These are the golden days. They always have been. They always will be.

 

Reflection on the Internet from My Cultural Background

In The Information: How the Internet gets inside us, Adam Gopnik proposed three labels: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers. I think I am a little bit of every kind.

First, like any Never-Better, I must admit that I do appreciate the technology advance a lot. Connecting to my own culture is the biggest benefit that the Internet has brought to me. I moved to Canada in 2010, the year when iPhone 4 was first released. A year later, WeChat was first launched in China after the success of Tencent QQ and Sina Weibo. I had always been thankful for these technological advances because they helped me to keep in contact with my friends in China. They kept me accompanied remotely to get through the first toughest year after landing in Canada. Imagine the immigrants 20 or 30 years ago, how hard it would be for them to talk to their family with just letters and expensive long-distance calls! More importantly, eBooks and eReaders also help me to keep reading in Chinese and accumulate my knowledge of the Chinese book market without living in China physically. More broadly speaking, the Internet provides us with the tool to explore any culture with links, texts, visuals and audios without physically being there.

However, with all the appreciation, the Better-Never me still worries about the Internet, especially when the technology meets the government. This fear is also rooted in my own experience. On an ordinary day in March 2017, my friend and I had a conversation via WeChat during which we mentioned the name of the previous Chinese President. We did not criticize him, nor the current Chinese government. Later that day, I posted a screenshot of the conversation to my Weibo, only visible to my friends. The next time when I opened the Weibo app, I noticed that I was banned from Weibo. I would not be able to log into my account permanently! I had been kept a record of my personal thoughts on that account for over 5 years and it was all gone in just a minute. All my posts, my comments to other accounts and even the account itself disappeared instantly from the Internet. A chill ran down my spine. This just terrified me (imagine someone threw your 5-year diary into a fire).         

Take a step back, the Ever-Waser me kicked in. Censorship and authoritarian had a much longer history than technology. It has been going on for a long time. Before the Internet, a dictating government would control the newspaper, book or radios. When the Internet is bringing convenience to the citizens, it also brings convenience to the ruling government. It is not the Internet to be blamed.

Wandering on both the English-speaking (and mainly North American) and the Chinese-speaking social media platforms, I feel like there are more Better-Evers and Ever-Wasers in North American society while there are more Never-Betters in the Chinese society. One day, I was talking to John. He asked me if Chinese people were also worried about the centralization of WeChat, as the Westerners worrying about Amazon or Google monopoly. This question just hit me right at the moment. I then realized that I have not read any significant article criticizing WeChat so far on any Chinese media. Meanwhile, I’m glad to read many articles in this class discussing and reflecting on how the web has changed us, in either a positive or negative way. No matter what attitude we hold towards the Internet, it is important to talk about it rather than take everything for granted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Goldilocks Problem: Thoughts on Reductive Reasoning and New Tech

In his article, “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us”, Adam Gopnik presents each position—Never-Betters (optimists), Better-Nevers (pessimists), and Ever-Wasers (neutral; humanity’s love-hate relationship with technology has never changed)—as having its strengths and weaknesses: technology can and has been used to enslave just as easily as it has been used to empower; cognitive exasperation runs just as rampant as cognitive expansion; the Internet and Web inhibit meaningful social interaction while it simultaneously acting as a hub of interconnectivity; and, finally, just as historical attitudes towards technologies tend to repeat themselves in a never-ending cycle, contemporary technology’s particular brand of omnipresence is something humanity has never encountered before. Frank Chimero, in his essay “The Good Room”, seems to agree with the latter point wholeheartedly, when he wrote: “technology has transformed from a tool that we use to a place where we live”. This is something I agree with as well.

I went into “The Information” thinking my own opinions regarding technology were so complex it would be impossible to fit them into a one tidy category, and upon finishing all the readings from last week, that position has remained the same—what has changed, however, is my ability to formulate and my thoughts and opinions more clearly. As it turns out, I am a mix of all three positions Gopnik lays out, and I feel that North American society as a whole[1] also fits into this new, complex category: where new technology is as exciting as it is scary, and something we both have and have not encountered throughout history.

When pushed, people tend to have slightly more nuanced opinions of things than they let on. I have observed this both in my personal life, and in my interactions with others. For example: at first glance, I tend to present myself as a Never-Better: I use modern technology for everything, I’m rarely seen without my computer and phone, and I truly enjoy all the benefits of modern tech awards me, and so defend them vehemently. That being said… technology also scares me half to death. The idea that companies harvest my information for commercial use is uncomfortable, I have a fear of getting doxed, and the commercialized Web (with all its negative implications) deeply upsets me. At the same time, I’m aware that most of my immediate resistance to new tech is a resistance to change, which is something humans tend not to enjoy—but I also know that humanity has never had such an intimate relationship with technology as we currently do, which makes me wary to write off any and all emotional and critical responses as part of an ancient cycle of human behaviour.

In short, the way I feel about new technology is a complicated mess. These feelings mirror those of my roommate, my brother, my parents, and I’m willing to bet, just about every other North American who has been exposed to technology within the past decade. The more complex technology becomes, and the more parts of our lives it irrevocably changes—the more it has us living inside the library, instead of visiting at our leisure—the more complicated and complex our relationship with it becomes. Furthermore, fitting such a large part of contemporary life into simplistic black and white areas is reductive and potentially dangerous. If the Stream has taught me anything, it’s that we should be wary of easy answers and neat, boxed-up solutions… they tend to radicalize in a way that makes it easy to suspend critical engagement despite our nuanced thoughts and feelings.

[1] It’s worth thinking about how we are define “society as a whole”: globally? The West? Canada? Vancouver? My experience of technology might be very different than someone who lives in China, or Georgia, so I’m using North America, based on my own experiences.

The Best Never-Betters-Better-Nevers-Ever-Waser Yet

 

In Adam Gopnik’s article, “How the Internet Gets Us”, he explains that there are three groups of people when we think about technology. The Never-Betters are the optimists that intrinsically believe in technology as if the Internet is our greatest creation and more innovative technologies are to come. The Better-Nevers are the nostalgic ones that crave “how it used to be”, thinking that the world will come to an end because nothing will be as great and powerful as the book. The Ever-Wasers are the rationalists that learn to deal with technology and its challenges as they come. If you were to ask me, I’d say all three, please!

We view the older generation: our grandparents, elders or seniors in our community, as more likely to identify themselves as Better-Nevers because they’ve lived longer than us, with viewpoints and lifestyles we’ll never understand. Lately, we’ve been thirsting for nostalgia, cue Stranger Things and its successes with chiming into our retro early-mid-1980s connotations. Some of us weren’t even born then to enjoy the symbolic mementos, so how could we possibly be nostalgic for it? Alas, when we compare how life was then to how life is now, how simple things were back then to how things keep getting more and more complicated, I understand how one might feel like a Better-Never.  Has modernity failed us? There are nights when nothing, not even a compelling Netflix show, can beat the feel of a new book in my hands. I devour it and sift into a different world that isn’t now. 

While thinking about all the new technology that enters our world, I can understand why some (including a part of myself) are Never-Betters. Some of our technology is really mesmerizing, and I can imagine people who were first introduced to the Internet feeling the same. I can’t remember the first time I was connected to the Internet, but I can remember the first time I got an iPhone as my first cellphone and what an experience that was. I can understand how sometimes technology really hurts us, how we are consumed into a burnout generation of social media, gaming, and just staring at the screen for so long your eyeballs melt addictions. However, I can’t fathom what’s next for us with where the Internet can go. It’s scary, but sometimes fear drives us towards better things ahead.

I recently went back to my part-time job where I see many Ever-Wasers, elderly people bravely and diligently learning new features to better optimize their phones. I often say to seniors watching the session from afar: “if those brave people can do it, then what’s holding you back from doing the same?” It shouldn’t be an age thing; technology does not discriminate who a user can be. A person can be nostalgic but still hopeful for what’s to come, or better yet, use that nostalgia to inspire new innovations that capture a bit of the essence from the past. As Gopnik suggests, “Once it is not everything, it can be merely something. The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user.” Technology is what we make it out to be; it is controlled by the people and our thinking towards it. Perhaps we have to take things as they come because we don’t know a piece of technology until we’ve thoroughly tried to integrate it into our lives.

It’s all about balance. Maybe every time we get an iOS update, my heartbeat will quicken and I’ll spam text my friends “LOOK WHAT THEY DID NOW. TECHNOLOGY SUCKS!” But after a couple of days, I’ll give in and let my phone refresh into the not-so-scary future that awaits me. I’m still waiting to convert my grandma into an iPhone user, and when I’ve finally done it, I’ll be the first and possibly best Never-Betters-Better-Nevers-Ever-Waser yet.

Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers

I’m not sure that I would really categorize myself as being strictly one of the three options that Gopnik has laid out. I would say that I accept change as a natural and necessary part of life and get antsy when I feel stagnant. I carry this same outlook when it comes to technology. I ‘m definitely not an early adopter when it comes to technology (or trends) and would wait to “jump on the bandwagon” until I actually need or could utilize a certain piece of technology or app. Although after listening to Lauren McCrea share participants hesitance on the use of technology, it made me think of how I should probably be a little bit more critical about technology. I think this has a lot to do with the way I look at technology as an industry being innovative and those in the industry having authority to insight this kind of change.

My partner and I were just discussing the other day, how technology is driving all other industries and made think of whether this is a good thing or not. Having worked in fertility, on a grand scale I understood the way technology is advancing the techniques in the field. With the help of highly specialized equipment, the embryologist have been able to develop techniques that have made difficult sometimes almost impossible cases have joyous outcomes. Ironically enough, as a clinic we were slow to fully adapt the use of technology to improve things like workflow. Fully integrating technology in things like our health records does have tremendous benefits such as streamlining records between health care providers, but it does make me question whether there are backup measures for when there are large-scale power outages like the one in Toronto in 2003.

As a society, I think we comprise a mix of all the classes of people. I think there’s certainly value in all the classes of people. I love the rosy almost naive view that Never-Betters have and it’s the best view of the world that we often miss out on. I do understand the resistance to change that Better-Nevers might have. I think this is especially important when it comes to technology that has such an ungoverned industry as we just discussed this week. It’s important to have people who critically think of ways things are changing. Ever-Wasers are needed to drive change and continue the development of society.