Yes, I could fill several uninteresting pages with the rapid pace of innovation in technology, human health, physics, economics, chemistry, etc.
It seems the boundaries of human knowledge continue to expand like a supernova.
More interesting to me is how this new world is changing us — as individuals, and as members of society.
It’s easy to get caught up in the wave of “now”, and lose sight of how we used to think about the world.
But, make no mistake, as we change the world, the world changes us.
A Starting Point
If I could point to one world-morphing change above all else, it would be the internet — and everything that goes with it: the web, mobile devices, search engines, big data, the proverbial IoT, social media, constant connectivity — the whole online world
We all realize the internet is a big deal, but just what is it doing to us personally?
Staying Constantly Connected Is A Given
I do love staying constantly connected to my family and friends. Huge win. But not all is rosy.
Sometimes I miss the days when I’d go home from work, and work would stay at work until my return. Now many of us are “reachable” around the clock — you never really get away from work unless you make a focused effort.
I still can use airplanes as an excuse, though. For the time being, that is.
It appears we all have quickly adapted to having our work life and personal life blend. But I’m not sure we’re all truly happy with this new state of affairs.
We prefer to have some modicum of control over our lives, and it's clear we've given a up a bit.
Feeling Suddenly Disconnected
I then remind myself that I’ve spent most of my life without a mobile phone welded to my hand, and haven’t suffered for it. I’m being irrational.
The formal term for an irrational fear is a phobia.
So, yes, our connected world has given rise to a new phobia: the fear of not being connected.
The New Complexity
Doing everything online is certainly simpler, but can create a new complexity.
If you’re like me, you’ve got many dozens of online accounts, automated processes, etc.
Everything is ducky until it’s not working. Example: it’s now easier for me to reset a password than to remember the damn thing. Example: auto-paying your bills is wonderful until you get lazy and realize someone has been ripping you off for the last eight months. And so on.
Don’t even try to change an email address (or a mobile phone number, credit card number, mailing address, etc.). You’ll be updating online forms forever. Just making a list of what needs to be changed is a major endeavor.
And I haven’t adapted well.
Expertise (And Ignorance) Is Now A Choice
The collective universe of human knowledge and opinion is now just a few clicks away. All you need is a bit of motivation and simple technology. If you choose, you can be incredibly well-informed on all sorts of topics.
We now make clear decisions on what subjects we wish to be well-informed, and those that don’t interest us. Our choices have little to do with what we studied in school, what we do for a living, etc.
Technology, economics, business, politics and cosmology interest me greatly. Fashion and pop culture, not so much. As a result, I generally suck at trivia games.
Our personal expertise is now driven by our interests and passions, and not our formal education.
We also make clear choices as to what we want to ignore. Big change.
Privacy? What’s That?
I am now fully aware that any interaction I have in the online world should not be considered as private nor confidential.
As an example, my bank keeps my financial records reasonably private (unless some government entity asks for them), but my demographic information appears to be for sale!
The same goes with the retailers I deal with, the phone and cable companies, my health care providers, and so on. Everything I do or say is now part of the global digital record, and theoretically up for grabs to almost anyone who’s interested.
While I certainly continue to appreciate privacy and discretion, I can no longer can assume this is the default.
Being philosophical, I remember we were taught in school how to prepare for a surprise nuclear attack by ‘duck and cover’ under our desks. Lovely.
I suppose if I was able to get my head wrapped around the idea of imminent nuclear destruction, I can learn to adapt to zero expectations of privacy.
I had no choice in either matter.
Learning To Filter
Most anyone who spends time connected learns to filter: click bait, scams, trolls, email, etc. Yes, you can automate some aspects, but we’ve all learned to look at something, size it up quickly, and decide “pass”.
If I think back just a decade or so ago, there wasn’t such a big need to do this. But the small dribble of unwanted communication has become a torrent, so we’ve learned to defend ourselves — if nothing else, to reclaim our lives and our sanity.
But there’s a dark side. If you have a very narrow point of view on a particular issue, it is now very easy to filter so that all you see is content that you agree with. I occasionally meet people who live in these self-reinforcing ideological bubbles, and it is most definitely not healthy.
I’m guessing that before long, we’ll have a formal name for this syndrome.
The Rise Of Individual Voices
Authority used to be automatically conferred on large groups: big companies, the government, political parties, associations and the like. We tended to believe what they said because they were, well, big!
We now appear to give more credence to individuals than groups. Maybe it's because we can relate to individuals; faceless organizations less so.
For those of us who have learned to harness our voices, this has largely been a boon. But now, if we want to be heard, we are required to learn how write, email, blog, tweet, present, etc. effectively.
We also have to become comfortable with being occasionally demonized for what we’re saying. But it’s a small price to pay.
In our connected world, communication really matters. It’s the new literacy.
Diversity Of Interaction
As I think about it, I now routinely interact with people on every continent, usually with very different perspectives and experiences than my own.
Often, I’ve never met them in person. As a result, much of the latent stereotypical processing on my part is thus defeated.
I consider this an enormous gift.
It’s changed my perspective on the world for the better. As I trust it is changing others as well.
Forming Independent Opinions
Now it’s much easier. I have the benefit of a wide world of diverse information sources (none of which is entirely accurate) and an enormous universe of knowledgeable people (also rarely entirely accurate).
As a result, I’d like to think I’ve gotten a lot better at constructing my personal opinions: better informed, more data, etc. My children appear to be getting pretty good at this as well.
But it does take some work.
And The Changes Have Just Begun
This pervasive connectivity is a comparatively recent phenomenon — only the last decade or so. We now constantly consume, interact — and act as sensors.
Yes, the world has changed, but how will it change us?
Hopefully for the better …
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