Technological self-destruction

Humans have a knack for innovation. Everything from the telegraph to the smart phone revolutionized the way people went about their daily lives. When Edward Whitehouse first arranged for a transatlantic telegraph cable, it took several attempts, with two ships, to even lay the cable. However, after some trial and error, he was able to establish what seemed to be one of the most technologically significant achievements in history. According to Standage, “the transatlantic cable was regarded as nothing short of miraculous; indeed, it was a miracle that it worked at all.” (p. 83) Whitehouse made several technical errors regarding the cable, leaving the messages attempting to make it across the Atlantic at a standstill. This is when William Thomson, a rival of Whitehouse, corrected the previous errors and brought an effective transatlantic cable to the world. After a while, the line became congested, and the cable’s original purpose of fast communication was no longer present. This is a prime example of how technology has the ability to work against its own effectiveness, and this holds true with the internet today. The internet’s ability to bring people together is in danger of its own success.

Previously, we examined Pariser’s argument about the filter bubble cutting internet users off from views that differ from their own. This is achieved through elements such as targeting advertisements on websites and selecting the news you see online based on your own interests. This is a product of “innovation” and “improvement” on some of the sites we use online. For example, Facebook is now altering one’s newsfeed to “cater” to what they want to see. In the eyes of many programmers, this is a great technological achievement, and sets the foundation for more personalization and customization for a user’s online experience. However, this actually has the ability to hinder the internet’s effectiveness of bringing people together from different viewpoints. When you log on to your Facebook, you now only see posts that are relevant to your interests and viewpoints.

Are these “improvements” online helpful or detrimental to the potential of the internet?

What are some other cases of technology working against itself?

This entry was posted in Winter 2012 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Technological self-destruction

  1. andgoldberg says:

    I think the whole push to “personalize” the Internet for users is an exciting, yet simultaneously scary trend. While the Internet is an overwhelming world of billions of web pages, organizations are attempting to shrink that world and feed users content the organization believes they would like to be exposed to. This is beneficial for many users who don’t want to spend countless hours digging through web pages, however places a little too much power in the hands of the organizations “personalizing” the Internet. I believe the best approach to this potential problem would be to ensure that the organizations developing this technology do not fall into the hands of consumer-oriented sales companies trying to exploit the technology. With no commercial influence, the technology could benefit society in making the Internet a less overwhelming and time-consuming medium.

  2. I think the filtering of online sites and social media sites in particular is mostly detrimental to the potential of the internet. There’s so much for users to see on the internet, and when we’re only seeing what we might already know about or like, we don’t get a taste of different views out there that might challenge us and make us think. I think a lot of this filtering has to do with companies wanting to make more money and trying to target who they think will best like their product or website. With any great invention there’s almost always some sort of fallback. At the end of Chapter 9, Standage says even at the time the telegraph was causing “information overload,” like for the small Michigan newspaper. I definitely think we have the same problem today with all the technology and fast-paced information we have, but it was a little different back then because they couldn’t really control what information they got, it just came in. That’s another reason why filtering is a problem because with the internet, when it comes to Google and other searches, we have the capability to find what we want, so there should be no need for companies to do this so heavily for us.

  3. sdkusin says:

    I believe media technologies are working against themselves because they continually attempt to deny the boundaries of time and space in order to provide people with person interaction, yet at the same time they continue to be domesticated in place of true personal contact. As Shirky argues, communication, like the human species, is based on personal contact. Even the earliest forms of verbal language were created due to mans’ need to communicate with his fellow man. Since the creation of language, all media and media technology have been created and used in attempt to return to the most basic form of communication: personal interactions. The mass media such as newspapers and magazines provided easily accessible information and entertainment. However, with their information delivered directly to their homes, people began to abandon town hall meetings and privatized their leisure due to these new mass media. Then, broadcast media such as radio and television were moved into the household and offered first audio and then video making the experience feel more personal, but only further privatizing peoples’ leisure time. However, these mass media allowed the content creator the ability to control the entertainment and events covered by the programming. The internet and today’s new digital media are all products of consumers’ desire to make the use of the media feel more like personal interaction. Email and more recently social media and smart phones have allowed people to create their own content and to contact people of their choosing beyond the boundaries of time and space. Today, the tendency to be constantly digitally connected, ironically operates at the expense of true personal interaction.

  4. kcwassman says:

    While some online “improvements” are helpful, the filter bubble does more harm than good. Personalization has its merits, but living in a bubble creates increasingly isolated individuals and detracts from a well-rounded society. In my experiences, the filter bubble even has an effect on extremity of political views. I have conservative and liberal friends who only see their party’s views and see more extreme views at that. They seem to get entrenched in their ideas and even drift further from the center because they’re exposed more frequently to extremer views. Additionally, restricting the views you encounter also entrenches potentially incorrect views of other arguments. For instance it’s a firm belief of some conservatives that the Affordable Care Act is the ‘most unpopular law ever passed in the history of the country,’ but that is not true according to the Washington Post fact checker, Glenn Kessler http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2013/09/25/how-unpopular-or-popular-is-obamacare/.

    One example of a technology that works against itself is the digitization of media such as movies and music. While moving movies from film to digital can increase production quality, it also makes the product easier to copy and steal. Another way this works against its industry is that many new movies come out ‘on demand’ shortly after being released in theaters, thereby decreasing theater profits.

  5. arieloz says:

    While filtering seems to help with the information overload that exists on the Internet, the question of its negative consequences are still being questioned. I believe the filtering of the Internet is mostly detrimental to its users because it leaves them unexposed to opposing opinions or news stories that were sorted out by algorithms. The user might have found these stories interesting, but now may never find out about them.

    One example of a technology that works against itself is the digitization of music. Websites such as Youtube are used to feature artists’ music videos in hopes of helping to spread their songs and increase their popularity. However, these sites have also made illegal downloading of music much easier. Websites like http://www.youtbe-mp3.org convert Youtube videos into mp3’s with the user simply pasting the Youtube URL and hitting a convert video button.

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