I’ve always said that the best technology is that which connects us. The history of the greatest technological innovations that have caused, and been caused by, the information age read like a biological evolutionary tree connecting us ever more closely over time:
- The Printing Press (1440)
- The Telegraph (1792)
- The Telephone (1876)
- The Radio (1895)
- Fax Data Transmission (1924)
- Internet & Email (1974)
- Instant Messaging (1980)
- Blogging (1997)
- Social Networks (Late 90’s)
- Mobile Devices (2000+)
Each one of these technologies builds on the one before it, and every single one has two things in common:
1. They are, or have been, widely adopted by a large % of the human population.
2. They all connect people.
Comparing them, it becomes clear that each “evolution” of the technology simply performs the same task as the last, but better. Either via speed, scope or quality the proceeding technology exceeds the limitations of the ones before it by taking advantage of the previous technology’s advancement.
Speculating on the future of our connective technology, and which technology will supersede (or build on) those we use now, one can imagine the proliferation of mobile devices and internet as a major factor in future technologies. Moreover, the rate at which we connect, and remain connected increased, and the depth and “quality” of this connection through media also increases. As bandwidth grows, video and augmented reality will become standard communication faculties, but another cultural phenomena is also at work. The Internet and Social networking has broadened the scope of our connective technology from mere one-to-one connections, to one-to-many and many-to-many. (1:1, 1:m, m:m) the impact of which is only just being realised as a cultural shift affecting our media, politics and interpersonal relationships.
As this occurs, I can’t help wondering whether such technology has an upper bounds, a ceiling, to which the advancement overtakes the social benefit. It might be hard to comprehend a world now without The Internet, Blogs and Mobile technology with the immense social and knowledge capital it has delivered, but it may be less difficult to imagine the detrimental impact of a hyper-connected world.
The disadvantages of such technology may be observed through the proliferation of violence, hate and misinformation that our connective technologies can disseminate just as quickly as efficiently as any other data across the network, but to suggest such negative-data is the basis for our hypothetical ceiling is naive, and wrong. All the technologies listed above have been used for violence, hate and misinformation and none of these things represent an upper-boundary for a technologies utility.
Such a boundary, if any, would develop via the “feedback” loop that is created by our hyper-connection. An example of this would be the way in which the internet’s content is indexed. Google’s search algorithm is designed to find, and share, information that is relevant and where possible - accurate. The algorithm was written to reverse-engineer us and our data. How we search and what we are looking for, and how we share. Google’s algorithm applies this methodology to our data and tries to give us what we want. It does this very well, and has been very successful for it.
Now that google is dominant however, a feedback loop exists. Content creators create content for google’s algorithm specifically, and a lot of data, comes from Google itself, and Wikipedia, a well ranked knowledge base. So data goes in, and out, and back in again. Like a photocopy of a photocopy, this is entropic by nature and eventually leads to chaos without external forces to balance this.
Our social data, and our new information is the balancing force. Fresh, relevant content - from our friends, our colleagues and our leaders, all provide inputs into the information ecosystem.
An interesting thing happened to me recently to illustrate the hyper-connected feedback loop. I connected my YouTube, to my Facebook and a handful of other participating, connectable websites. When I interacted with YouTube, this activity was shared to Facebook, and to my Twitter. Through some duplication glitch, my activity was echo’ed repeatedly and randomly over time. Friends would complain about this, which added to the meta-entropy data which continued to cycle through my networks ad infinitum until I took corrective action.
This small example perhaps highlights the beginning of the entropic overlap through hyper-connectivity. Users of Google Buzz are noticing this feedback too, with activity being shared, cross-linked, commented and duplicated over various networks causing some confusion, and some loss of control which manifests as a privacy issue.
Privacy, is the inevitable casually of the hyper-connected world, and the valid reason why many intelligent, rational members of society choose not to participate. As humans, we posses the innate capacity and desire for the shared human experience. As social animals is is natural for us to connect, strongly and emphatically. The limits of this capacity are only now being explored and is it this that will be the foundation of any upper-boundary.
I am reminded in this present state of technology by Douglas Adam’s fictional race from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, who gained the ability to read other’s minds when they weren’t talking out loud, and being suitably personally confronted by this, eventually spoke out loud constantly thereafter, becoming one of the most chatty species in the Galaxy.
I am optimistic however, that we will recognise the potential for feedback and entropy that our hyper-connected world creates, and that our future technology will address and transcend these limitations, perhaps becoming the foundation of the next “age” once information itself reaches it’s cultural and technology apex.
- Dylan O’Donnell B.IT