GLI: Technology Amplifies Everything

It’s been awhile since I con­sid­ered adding to the Gilbert’s Laws of the Inter­net (GLI), but my recent post con­cern­ing Apple’s new iPad3 woes gave me pause to think as I wrote that Tech­nol­o­gy Ampli­fies Every­thing.  It real­ly is impor­tant enough to be a law.

Man has been try­ing to find ways to make his life eas­i­er since there has been man.  A club lets you hit hard­er, a lever lets you move larg­er things and wheels let you move larg­er things fur­ther and faster.  And so on.

But tech­nol­o­gy is an amaz­ing­ly large an ver­sa­tile lever.  In pro­duc­ing the gen­er­al pur­pose pro­cess­ing unit (and thus the com­put­er), we have made it pos­si­ble for “every­thing” to do “every­thing.”  The old adage was that all soft­ware grows to the point that it can send email (or, if you’re born after 1980, all soft­ware grows until it can browse the web).  Com­plex­i­ty isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the friend of soft­ware or of any device, but each of the devices we use has steadi­ly increased in com­plex­i­ty or been replaced by one that does (think about cam­eras, for instance, being replaced by smart phones which might be replaced by tablets — and how much of the func­tion of your camera/smartphone/tablet is dupli­cat­ed by your cur­rent or next auto­mo­bile).

It is com­put­ers that have achieved the bulk of the advances in fuel effi­cien­cy in auto­mo­biles in the last 30 years.  It is com­put­ers that make phones and the inter­net and large swaths of our dai­ly life pos­si­ble.  In many cas­es even the peo­ple who have expe­ri­enced life with­out ubiq­ui­tous com­put­ers are no longer able to mange life with­out them.  And I’m not talk­ing about just turn­ing off and going camp­ing for the week­end — the car wouldn’t work, buy­ing sup­plies would be dif­fi­cult with­out cash machines or cred­it cards — I’m talk­ing about being tru­ly tech­nol­o­gy free being almost no longer pos­si­ble.

But Tech­nol­o­gy Ampli­fies Every­thing.  From the mun­dane ampli­fi­ca­tion of mis­takes to the daunt­ing ampli­fi­ca­tion of crime, tech­nol­o­gy extends the human reach in every direc­tion.  From those who seek to empow­er peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to those who would con­trol us for nefar­i­ous means, tech­nol­o­gy enables on a scale nev­er before imag­ined.  From the ubiq­ui­ty of infor­ma­tion to the Orwellian sur­veil­lance of peo­ple, tech­nol­o­gy makes it both pos­si­ble and prac­ti­cal.

It is impor­tant to note that while ampli­fy­ing things, Tech­nol­o­gy doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly change their nature.  Spam is rather like the crap you find (or used to find) in your phys­i­cal mail­box.  “Niger­ian” scams exist­ed well before the inter­net.  Peo­ple made errors that caused thing to crash, explode and fiz­zle before the inter­net.  Tech­nol­o­gy doesn’t invent new prob­lems, but it does allow small prob­lems to affect peo­ple on a mas­sive scale.

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