Disparity and consequences: How technology will create an opportunity divide

Technology – particularly the Internet – was hailed as “the great leveler” in the early days, and indeed it many ways it has been.

But I was struck by a comment on someone’s post today, that both of his grandchildren – 4½ and 7½ – were getting iPads in their xmas stockings. “Really?” I thought. Those things are not cheap, and I don’t believe childproof.

But what struck me wasn’t the obvious display of disposable income (shocking to my thoroughly calvinist upbringing lol – still working on that), but that those kids are being handed – handed– the future keys to success: technical aptitude. And what that means is increasingly society will be delineated by the “haves” and “have nots”, since the kids in the “haves” group will have such a clear, relevant advantage.

Now I’m not a social crusader. I get that “life isn’t fair” and that there have always been inequities between the rich and poor, with all the associated privileges, be it access to better food, medicine, investment opportunities, recreation, etc. But it just seems that there’s never been something with quite as much power to create so much disparity. The kids with early access and education using it will thrive in the future, the rest will not.

We need to make sure that the kids in the “have not” group have at least a chance of success in the future where technical savvy is a requirement. Moral obligations aside (I’m not a fan of using morals to make an argument), but from a pragmatic perspective: among the ranks of those underprivileged kids could be the next brilliant programmer, leader, designer who makes life better for us all.

I’m sure all of this has been dicussed and anticipated many times, one of the results being the “One laptop per child” program. But we need to ensure that in the US as well, we provide a system that supports the training and development tools to all the kids in our country. How else are we as a nation going to stay competitive on a global basis?

Pugnacious twats: Anger issues in an interactive world

I’ve had a few unsavory run-ins (and yes, that’s the right word) with people on other people’s Facebook discussions lately. You know, the kind when you’re innocuously commenting on someone’s post and then “bam!” someone who feels the need to aggressively disagree shows up. The kind of interaction that frankly just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Typically these run-ins are followed by a private message from the original poster, who’s connected to both of you (and is now in the middle) explaining that while this person is indeed resembling nothing more than a total argumentative a-hole on Facebook, in person they’re wonderful and kind while butterflies and rainbows just stream forth from every orifice of their bodies (ok maybe I exaggerate a bit there…).

Why am I mentioning all this on a blog dedicated to technology you ask? Well it’s also a blog about how people interact with technology, and I am interested in the barriers that technology is lowering – and in this case, it’s interesting to me that all those social norms that exist between real interactions seemingly have little hold once the interaction is through a screen. Why it’s acceptable to be an absolute aggressive jerk to a complete stranger – even though there’s a mutual connection in between.

I know there are the subjects that your mother always taught should be avoided in polite company: I believe it was politics, sex and religion – so Facebook conversations definitely fail on that rule. We’re discussing (arguing about?) subjects that typically you would have never have had with strangers, and probably not with friends either.

But at the same time, there’s not a lot of discussion happening. It seems that somehow it’s become even more important to “put your stake in the ground” about your beliefs/opinions, and then defend them vehemently, as opposed to listening.

Which is where I have an issue with the people who tend towards the “pugnacious”. All this anger they clearly have now has an outlet, where they can exhibit it with complete anonymity or fear of retribution. I (or anyone) have been depersonalized. The barriers to civility are eliminated, allowing for basic personality flaws to be magnified.

And I think that inevitably this elimination of social behavioral norms will spill over into real life: once you’ve gotten used to being able to be aggressive virtually, it’s easier to be it in person.

So while I love technology and how it’s changing our lives, I fear for something that seems to be disappearing: basic courtesy.

Blurring the line (channeling Neo): Virtual relationships

This is fascinating: www.psfk.com/2010/09/japanese-men-enjoying-their-holidays-with-virtual-girlfriends.html

Japanese Men Enjoying Their Resort Holidays With Virtual Girlfriends

Yes, you read that correctly: There’s a hotel in Japan catering to men and not real women.

“Japan’s resort town of Atami held an interesting yet unusual promotional campaign last month to draw in tourists-customized packages for Japanese men who come with their virtual girlfriends.

These girlfriends are videogame characters from the hit dating-simulation game LovePlus+ and cater to men who are lonely and miss having a girl by their side. Users carry their girlfriends in a game device that recreates the actual experience of a romance and relationship.”

Increasingly people seem to be blurring the line between the virtual and “real”. My pet theory on this one is that people don’t have the patience – or bandwidth – to put effort into developing real relationships (nasty, time consuming, and impossible to control things that they are). How much more perfect than having a girlfriend (or boyfriend, or self created alien!) who does whatever you want?

And how will this trend impact on the real world? Are people going to keep retreating into their own, self created (and totally controlled) worlds at the expense of “real”? It reminds me of Solaris, that planet created by Asimov where contact between humans is distasteful and (life like – we’re getting there) robots serve every whim.

…and if you’re curious, Asimov’s Robot/Foundation Series are well worth reading – particularly, in my opinion, The Caves of Steel  and The Naked Sun.