I find myself these days on a regular basis having discussions, for one reason or another, about the impact of Information Technology and inevitably the Internet on organizations, life, society, culture, and in general, the individuals having the conversation.
About a decade ago, the first time I remember having this discussion with a friend of mine, he remarked that he felt his parents had experienced greater dislocation due to technological change than he had. His parents had lived through the growth of radio, the invention of television, the ubiquitous growth of telephones, and the creation and expansion of commercial air travel.
All he and I could come up with, at the time, were faxes, cell phones, and perhaps email; which while significant seemed less amazing than the list he had for his parents. That was a sobering conversation since the common wisdom was that everything was changing so radically. Having said that, I suspect that if I repeated that conversation today we would both come to a different conclusion.
When Information Technology first had an impact it was in large part to make conceptually things that already existed, better; faster and larger filing cabinets, faster calculators, and typewriters with thousands of fonts. As the internet was added to the mix, they became enhanced phones with email, instant messaging, and products like Skype.
And as I have pointed out a number of times before, in the same way TV eventually became much more than radio with pictures, Information Technology and the Internet are increasingly becoming something else, integrated much more tightly with what we are, not just what we do.
A class example of that was an article from last year, about how the memory of people who make use of the Internet has been impacted, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/health/15memory.html. The brain, which is a truly remarkable thing, is pretty smart as an information retrieval device. Information which is likely to be accessible on-line is not remembered as well as information less likely to be retrieved. In effect, all of these ‘cloud’ (oh that awful term) extensions to our computer systems in fact has become an extension of us. Where that will go over time is an interesting question.
As the lines between home and office, work and play, or near and far, and in a broader sense between physical and virtual reality become less and less clear, Computational Nodes are becoming less something to interface with but part of the conversation.
In those happily few times over the last few years that we have lost electrical power to our house, the thing I miss most is connectively. Those who grew up with 24 x 7 connectivity to everything are different than those of us that grew up before that was true. I suspect that the latter, like me, do not appreciate how different we are and the implications of that difference.
I was reminded of that over the last weekend when we visited Westport CT for the Bat Mitzvah of one of Ellen’s cousin’s children (I am sure I am not identifying the relationship correctly, but I assume you get the idea). At one point there was a mild change in plans and we were going to have drive from where we were staying to an unexpected intermediate destination. The person who knew how to get to that destination started telling me the directions.
I immediately stopped them and said to tell all that to Ellen since she in fact was in charge of knowing where we were going and how to get there (with the peripheral advantage that I could blame-shift to her when we got lost). It was at that moment that I remembered the article on how memory works for those people who have access to information on-line, referenced above, and realized that in a real fashion Ellen served that exact same function for me, allowing me to not have to remember directional information that would otherwise be stored in my personal cloud storage, Ellen.
Who knew when I got married 31 years ago next month that I would have gotten such a jump on the rest of society who had to wait decades before they too were able to be transformed by on-line access on a 24×7 basis to the Internet.