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the friend of software or of any device, but each of the devices we use has steadily increased in complexity or been replaced by one that does (think about cameras, for instance, being replaced by smart phones which might be replaced by tablets — and how much of the function of your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.