Friday, March 5, 2010

Good Clean Fun isn't Technical

My computer has begun talking to me - something about my "database is updated". Yes, it's a canned message (new virus scanner), but I'm really not sure I'm "down" with this.

I knew the day would come, though. It's not hard to do, make a computer talk. We've had sound boards for about 20 years. But like other technical advances I hadn't really figured on having to deal with my computer "talking".

I don't plan to talk back. It's out of principal, and voice activated anything is still pretty dicey. When I talk to my computer, I want it NOT to talk back. NOT record, or try to understand. I want it inanimate. It's just a freakin' (stupid) machine.

Long range I'm sure we will be able to talk to computers, which will be a fun novelty at first, then useful, then "they" will figure out how to capture conversations, digitize them and run complex searches that ferret out topics like terrorism.

But the technology isn't there yet. "Smart homes" have been around for a while, but you still don't hear your friends talking about how cool it is to set the temperature from work, or start the oven for dinner do you? I can't get excited until my house can start a real fire, pours me a glass of wine, and let's the dogs out. Or does the chores I hate, like wash the dogs. Gently and without electrocution. Clean the bathroom and get all the gnarly spots.

I've been in systems and computing for a while now. Think decades. The truth is that while I knew in theory that lots of data could be stored about us, I also knew that in reality integrating systems across platforms, and then making sense of all that data (think billions of transactions just in the retail world) was out of reach.

But it won't be forever.

I worked in an industry for years where we were always dissatisfied with the ability of even advanced searches to yield data that was relevant (and therefore should be reviewed by attorneys or their minions). I've been out of it for a couple of years, but I'm sure the landscape hasn't changed much. The most sophisticated tools in eDiscovery (electronic discovery) are still pretty crude, in comparison to the brain of an infant, for example. If you take terrabytes of data and run it thru a grinder, and get a bunch of "mis" hits, then you multiply that times $200 per hour for a review, you get a lot of wasted money. Trust me, major class action suits are still getting settled because no one wants to spend the money digging thru warehouses of data.

We have WAY more information than we know what to do with.

But we should be thinking about it anyway - before some Billy Gates or Enron, or Ponzoi scheme, or terrorist or Impeccable Wall Street Bank of Tradition of this century figures out how to use it against us.

It's interesting to me how technology continues to invade our lives, and how younger generations are more and more tolerant of this.

So it's easy to make my computer talk. From a practical perspective it could give me a heart attack if my sound is up. And what value is really added?

In other words, why make it talk?

If I were still a DBA (database administrator) and was backing up a server and walked out of the server room, I might not hear the computer talk. I know they can make a face pop up with the voice on my screen, but would I care? Would I make it Brad Pitt's likeness for fun? Would that make me want to be nice to my server?

Technology already invades my life, do I really want it to intrude in my physical space any more? Sound now, holographics next. Heck, when my daughter webcams with my ex I have to think about what I say and do around the house. Strange sensation. It's a small invasion. Tolerated, to be sure, but let's not sugar coat it. No skimpy pajamas!

I watched iRobot again last weekend. It was interesting, and of course a commentary on this topic. But that technology is a long way off, right? Kinda like computers talking...

Something to think about, how we choose comfort and easy, often without thinking about the long term effects.

Sure I play Farmville because it's easy, fun and has immediate gratification. Same reason people have always played games, right? But it's just a game. If people are getting hooked maybe it's because they are looking for something to get hooked on. (70 million people play Farmville. I wonder how many are addicted?)

TV is the other common drug of choice, and I'm happy not to have one in the house right now. I could watch my favorite shows on the computer right? But I haven't. How many millions of us zone out on TV? (The brain is less active during TV time than it is during sleep.)

I see trends that are about getting hooked, and about easy to the point of complacency. And I watch how we respond when thing are taken away, like privacy, and choices. (My daughter's school allows parents to opt out of vaccinations - for religious reasons. But if there is a "compelling reason" (think pandemic) they think they have the right to vaccinate my child in spite of my objections.)

I think we are doing a weird shift right now, collectively. The trend is toward less everything. Less spending, less hiring, less working, less superfluous stuff. But also less paying attention.

And we are leaning towards easy: Easy entertainment, easy meals, easy relationships. Easy has been "in" for a long time, but now we can add Simple.

I'm all for easy and simple. I'm sure creativity is up :) Sex is up. Music is up. These are blessings from the recession. I wish religious observance was up. But I bet prayer is up, so maybe G-d is down with that.

But don't get complacent. A fearful, tired, beaten down populace is not good. Simplify, enjoy and create a legacy - be happy and pay attention. Voice your concerns. Hold public officials accountable. Volunteer, get involved.

And don't let technology do too much. They are just dumb machines.


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