Saturday, August 06, 2011

Who Will Save Us From The Future?

Who will save us from the future?

Clive Thompson writes in his column Keying In The Future Leaders in The Bohemian about how a college english student named Daniel Finnegan who invented an application for your smart phone that will automatically reply to a text message you receive while driving (or any other time you don't need or want to answer a text message). The application will explain that you are driving and will reply as soon as you get to a safe place to send a text message.

Thompson uses Finnegan as an example of how modern computer programming allows even non-computer geeks to build apps that will support and improve human existence. Finnegan used a new Google tool called App Inventor which allows for graphical "programming" of the system and features of your smart phone.

He further cites Douglas Rushkoff's recent treatise "Program Or Be Programmed" as evidence of the importance of this new way of using technology to improve our lives.

Rushkoff explains - "That's right: America, the country that once put men on the moon, is now falling behind most developed and many developing nations in computer education. We do not teach programming in most public schools. Instead of teaching programming most schools with computer literacy curriculums teach programs. Kids learn how to use popular spreadsheet, word processing, and browsing software so that they can operate effectively in the high-tech workplace. These basic skills may make them more employable for the entry level cubicle jobs of today, but they will not help them adapt to the technologies of tomorrow."

Rushkoff and Thompson make a good point about the basic understanding most people have of technology and it's use and interface within our lives. As someone who teaches people how technology can be your friend, make your life easier, help you learn and communicate with others, I see how we all need to learn more about how technology works (or doesn't work) for us.

That part I agree with. It's the part about why Finnegan decided to create his ingenious phone app that bothers me. "How do you stop people from texting while driving?" asked Thompson. It turns out that Finnegan "realized that one of the reasons people type messages while they're in the car is that they don't want to be rude -- they want to respond quickly so friends (and I assume he also meant colleagues) don't think they're being ignored."

Is it a great idea to have a app for your phone that auto replies to people when you can't get to their message as quickly as they might like? Absolutely. There are so many places where this can be useful. Is it a great idea to live in a world where people think you are rude for not immediately responding to a text. Not at all.

That's where I believe we are falling behind. To me this life of always on and always connected is turning us into rude people expecting others to do something we may, or may not, have the time or even want to do in response. What if I'm in a meeting with someone else? Is that person not deserving of my full attention? I think so and therefore wouldn't answer a phone call, E-mail, or text while meeting with them.

Recently someone arranged a meeting me and one other person. The person who arranged the meeting spent the entire time texting and writing E-mails on his phone glancing up to make a comment every once in awhile. My take away from that is whatever I had to say was not as important as whatever was coming across his phone. If that's the case, spare me the rudeness and don't meet with me. Or, better yet, don't pick up your phone and "work on it" while your supposed to be working with me.

Every so often one of my friends announces they are taking time off or even eliminating their online social networking activities because it's taken over their lives. Eventually they come back and usually with a little more balance in the amount of time they spend doing it. Integrating technology in our lives is not as easy as we might think. We often spend more time than we should with the technology that is designed to improve our lives and make it easier for us to enjoy life itself.

I'm all for democratizing the creation of technology systems and services in our lives. I'm also for having more time to be human with my family, friends, co-workers and colleagues.

I'm on vacation this week and we brought three computers with us. While on the surface that seems literally absurd to me now as I write this blog.

However, I do recognize the importance of the communication we have with the people in our world and that as long as we're not camping or literally on an island somewhere we are going to want to communicate with them.

I'm just hoping for a world where we won't be considered rude, or treated even worse, if we don't immediately reply to some form of communication in a "timely manner." I believe this is where education comes in to play. We need to integrate the technology in our world but we need to do so in a manner that is reasonable and that there are shared expectations regarding when and how we communicate with each other.