Press-Republican

November 10, 2013

Negative aspects to Internet technology

BY STEWART DENENBERG, Technology and Society
Press-Republican

---- — In this column, I play the role of curmudgeon, grousing about certain aspects of the Internet but, like many other irascible critics, offering no solutions.

Across from my Sept. 8, column was an Associated Press story, “Samsung unveils new Smartwatch,” and I’m beginning to notice TV commercials for it.

One of the main purposes of the Smartwatch seems to be to alert the user to incoming messages on their smartphone. I had read about this new tech marvel earlier, but this particular article got me thinking about the need for such a device costing $300.

Does the world really need a device to tell them to go to another device to read a message from another human being?

Do we need a smartwatch to connect to our smartphone, which we can use to program our TV just so we can mitigate our boredom?

How about this as an alternative: Send a check for 300 bucks to Doctors Without Borders and either wait until you see your friend to talk with them or, if you’re not that patient, wait until you get out of the meeting to consult your missed calls.

Franz Kafka has said that most of our problems stem from laziness and impatience, and perhaps Karl Marx got one thing right when he claimed, “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”

We seem to have forgotten that the root of the term “technology” is from the Greek “techne,” which translates roughly to “craftsmanship,” and because craft is usually the practical application of an art, it is much to be admired.

Certainly Samsung is crafty, but that’s a whole ‘nother use of the word.

It’s a reasonable premise to argue that the Internet has had a more powerful effect on global societies than any other single technology. And it’s even more reasonable to claim that it’s been particularly effective on our youth.

Beeban Kidron, a British filmmaker, was interviewed by Tim Adams of the Guardian which resulted in the article, “We need to talk about teenagers and the Internet.”

The article starts off with a bang. “What is the best thing about the Internet?” Kidron wondered.

One of the boys, a 15-year-old named Ryan, answered her without hesitation. “Porn,” he said.

She goes on to point out the dehumanizing aspects of this easy access to pornography and the interesting conclusion that most of the boys are aware of this. The porn fix is not only addictive, but it leaves the boys unfulfilled, somewhat depressed and most importantly, still ignorant of the human condition and their place in society.

“I’ve ruined the sense of love,” one of the boys tells Kidron.

Girls are affected, as well. Kidron interviews a young woman who tells her how attached she is to her BlackBerry and how, when a gang of boys takes it from her, she allowed herself to be sexually assaulted in order to get it back.

These children are not special needs or “kids with an issue,” Kidron goes on — this subculture is pervasive. She is speaking about her native country, England, but it’s not too difficult to extrapolate this depressing trend to any society that has reached a certain technological level.

On the other hand, I recently read in my Sigma Xi newsletter the headline “Technology transforms sewer water into electricity,” which describes how engineers have developed a system to generate electricity using the microbes from sewage water. It appears to be about as efficient as solar technology with the added benefit that it also cleans the water.

I don’t go so far as to think to myself, “What a Wonderful World!” But I do see that while being a curmudgeon can be fun, it’s not a useful way to view this complex, amazing universe of ours.

I believe that you can choose to be happy or you can choose to be unhappy, and the world is ready to back you up 100 percent.

Dr. Stewart A. Denenberg is an emeritus professor of computer science at SUNY Plattsburgh, retiring after 30 years there. Before that, he worked as a technical writer, programmer and consultant to the U.S. Navy and private Industry. Send comments and suggestions to his blog at www.tec-soc.blogspot.com, where there is additional text and links. He can also be reached at denenbsa@gmail.com.