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?