The Great Anxiety of Connected Tech

mm
  • June 13, 2014
  • Candice Eng

A refrigerator that will know when I am out of food and order what I want to eat. A car that will drive itself so I don’t get road rage or have to pay attention to directions. Yes, there are great benefits and conveniences that come with connected technology, but also unknown and scary consequences. Think of any sci-fi movie you’ve seen: I, Robot, Minority Report, Wall-E, and they all contain warnings about proceeding with care when it comes tech.

The Internet of Things, The Internet of Everything, The Internet of Stuff, The Connected World, Technology: Are you for it or against it? Are you excited or are you weary? Or maybe you’re just not sure how you feel about all of it.

This seemed to be the theme of this year’s MIT Technology Review Digital Summit, an annual event that explores upcoming digital technologies and their global impact on business and society. Whichever way you lean when it comes to connected tech many questions still remain. The world will change, our lives will change, and how we interact with our devices and each other will change.

Here are my key takeaways from the event:

A history lesson. Genevieve Bell, an Australian anthropologist, researcher and Director of Intel’s Interaction and Experience Research, talked about the high anxiety level towards technology right now. She pointed to other moments in history when people had concerns about new technology. In the early 1990s, electricity was viewed as a scary thing. People didn’t know what it meant to turn night into day – would people go crazy because there wasn’t enough darkness? People used to think electricity would make women and children more vulnerable in the home, but now we think of electricity as a safety thing. Our anxiety level changed, and so did our perception.

The good and the bad. Technology and the connected world brings efficiency, knowledge, and cost-effectiveness to many areas of life. Just think of the great research and innovation happening in healthcare. For example, smart glasses are being used to help autistic children understand and read human emotion.. On the flipside, we have valid concerns about our security and privacy and the loss of humanity.

Move to balance. There seems to be quite a balancing act that’s going on: “things” do work better when they’re connected because they do it smarter and more efficiently, but humans historically work better when they’re disconnected. People are going to have to figure out how much technology is too much and how we reassert our humanity, and this will be different for different people, different situations, different lifestyles, different cities, and so on.

Cultural differences. What makes sense in one scenario or place will not make sense in another. Cities around the world are very different from each other, and its people and infrastructures possess diverse cultures and needs. For example, it may make sense to have sensors monitoring parking spots and meters in Austin, TX, while in another that may seem too intrusive but it makes more sense to monitor sharks off the coast.

The questions. There are many – for the technologists and inventors, for governments and legislators, and for us as consumers. What are the geopolitical and social considerations? What control do you need to give up? What control are you willing to give up?

So The Internet of Things, The Internet of Everything, The Internet of Stuff, The Connected World, Technology: Are you for it or against it? Are you excited or are you weary? Or maybe you’re just not sure how you feel about all of it. Would love to hear your thoughts!