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Macon Chronicle-Herald - Macon, MO
Opinion from the technical trenches.
Please Stay Tuned: What's the problem? Is it me?
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About this blog
By Robert Handley
Kirksville native, laborer, filmmaker, sailor, technologist. I've had an interest in how things work since childhood and today making things work is my job description. I'm an IT generalist/consultant and database developer, and for the last ...
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Please Stay Tuned...
Kirksville native, laborer, filmmaker, sailor, technologist. I've had an interest in how things work since childhood and today making things work is my job description. I'm an IT generalist/consultant and database developer, and for the last several years I've concentrated on simplifying and securing small business technology. I intend that complexity stay inside the machine, and that your experience outside it be productive and pleasant. When you make technology decisions there are many sources for information and advice, but it's sometimes overwhelming to sift through. So I'll render fact, opinion and personal experience into palatable portions that I hope you'll find helpful. I'm not a tech evangelist, rather I play a balancing act, because it's easy to collect a closet full of expensive, planet killing junk. Please stay tuned...
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By Robert Handley
Dec. 18, 2012 1:10 p.m.



I'm trying, against considerable odds, to think of words that aren't trite in the face of recent events. I want to address issues more relevant than which phone, TV, tablet to purchase/recommend, even though, and in spite of the tools in my kit, I'm now uncomfortable with all of them. A nagging conscience suggests that broader issues prevail, that I may be part the problem and not the solution.

Today's tech is powerful, some of it even useful. But whether by the unlikely Zombie apocalypse or the obvious effect of climate change, choosing a gift might also include the choice of nothing at all. Not an easy sell to kids who might cry at their relative depravation (all the other kids have one), and nerds (like me) who would express similar frustration with adult-like rationalization (all the other adults have one).

Every device, from stone wheel to large screen TV, requires manufacturing, and destructive, blind consumption of it might portend a dark, dystopian future. I understand, and am also weary of, environmental diminution discussions, because such talk is truly annoying.

Arguments of conscience might actually cause opting out of a new TV for me, iPad for a grandparent or a new vehicle even before the tires wear out. At issue is whether making and disposing of today's tech product is robbing the future to feed the present. While I do believe that we're way past an environmental tipping point, it's also possible that future technology can save us from ourselves. Game on; will an apparent race to the bottom destroy the ability to create cures at a rate that exceeds the consequences?

Like the pain of a broken arm, cognitive dissidence is never pleasant, but hiding behind indifference, or short term reward, isn't appropriate either. If I can afford an iPad, if I've worked hard (or not) and/or have a credit card, isn't said purchase my constitutional right? Don't we live in a free country? Who are these pesky environmentalists that harp endlessly about coral reefs, tainted water and drought? Why should they have a higher argumentative temperature than my own burning wallet?

Perhaps we live in a time of irreconcilable forces. The world economy, such as it is, is said to depend on growth through consumption. We're told that refrigerators, cars, computers, tablets, all manner of gadgets must be renewed, whether we need them or not, and failure to participate will cause manufacturing to stop, jobs will disappear. Sustenance is old fashioned and painful, children can't compete if not connected, twenty thousand music tracks/uploaded photos and constant, always-on communication are required minimums, social covenants, important. 

Is all this connectivity really necessary? To quote Steve Martin (twitter), "This is weird, but I’ve found I can read someone’s mind just by talking to them for only an hour or two."

When I was a child we often visited the Spring Lake cabin of a family friend. He kept a station wagon that was used only for transport from the cabin door to the boat dock, about 200 feet. His generation was the Great Generation, born into the depression, then conscripted to fight the second world war. Afterwards these brave soldiers were renewed, they lived in the first robust economy of that epoch, a free market that encouraged consumption and indulgence. These Mad Men weren't consciously destructive, they were merely pursuing the American dream full stop. Even though the station wagon evaporated more gasoline that it burned, and trips to the gas station were infrequent, it was most certainly an unnecessary use of resources. Hidden behind the familiar Ford logo were oil, steel, blood, electricity and other resources necessary to support their relative luxuries.

Even though I know better, I've followed their example like a little duck. My own closet overflows with gadget excess, so it would seem that I haven't really learned a thing. The long view of it makes me cringe. I try to recycle, but it's well known that these programs have a marginal result, that significant, harmful elements of their construction can't be reclaimed by science or alchemy. Much of the gadget waste we produce will end up in third world landfills, picked over by scavenging children and/or dismembered by rain and sun into their component parts, then sent downstream.

Humans are thought to be a superior, evolved species with unmatched survival tools. Brains allow construction of the world's highest building in ninety days, single submarines that can transform the entire planet to dust, technology that records everything, from purchasing habits to heartbeats. Brains allowed an otherwise weak and inferior species (that would be us) to dominate bears, mountains, oceans, mosquitoes and apparently inferior peer civilizations.

Hands are the brain's tool, fantastic strength multipliers that fabricated arrows, steam, super computers, art, bombs, Bushmaster semiautomatic rifles, yadayada. While pocket sized gadgets or sense numbing entertainment centers would seem to be of lesser import than eliminating global hunger, I still wonder; should the dark, destructive results of gadget design be given any less consideration than fossil fuel consumption, over-the-counter assault weapon sales or uncontrollable greed? Do we live in the epoch of ballyhooed information revolution that yields a paradoxical result, wherein the devices that claim extraordinary promise might actually destroy us? 

I hope not, I love this stuff, I do the best I can.

Or do I? Please stay tuned...

 

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