Thursday, 26 November 2009

Technology is not “out to get you”.

Screen Technology
Originally uploaded by rutty

I recently read an article titled “The Wonders of Technology” by A. Palmer in a university newspaper (which I urge you to read before finishing this blog post), and was somewhat disappointed by it. As a Computer Science student, I am someone who is exceedingly open-minded to advances in technology – it’s why I specifically chose to enter this field. Whether manifested as robotics or mobile phones, it is undeniable that it is constantly moving at a very swift pace.

I couldn’t help but cringe whilst reading this article. I understand that it was simply an opinion-based piece, and obviously everyone is very much entitled to their own; however, I have to confess that I was not expecting these sorts of thoughts from a young student straight out of sixth form – if anything, my imagination had placed my father’s voice narrating it (no offense Dad, or A. Palmer). The author attempted to portray the notion that we are surrounded by and are growing more reliant on technology.

I have to admit that I do somewhat agree with this view, but I disagree with the following relating to the university’s intranet service – “..the logical conclusion I drew from all this: Studynet only allows me full access when it feels like it”.

Let’s get one thing straight – computers, networks, the internet etc. do not possess “natural” intelligence (there’s a reason why it’s called artificial intelligence), and are not sentient. They do not make decisions based on desires or malice – they are not people. No matter how many times you watch I, Robot or the Terminator films (which I absolutely love, by the way), these notions are in no way infiltrated into everyday life. There isn’t a real life Skynet plotting the demise of the human race, to take-over the world. Our chip and pin credit cards will not fire lasers at us through our wallets. My Nintendo Wii’s nunchuck will not attempt to strangle me. My friend’s iPhone will not assemble arms and legs to walk around like the old Carphone Warehouse mascot. My mum’s sat-nav will not purposefully instruct her to drive off a cliff (well, there have been stories of drivers stupid enough to let their sat-navs direct them into rivers etc. as their devices were not up-to-date with all routes – common sense, we have it for a reason).

The article mentioned e-journals - “..They’re so easy to use, you only have to click through about thirty different pages to access them!” Dude, two words - iSkills session; you should seriously consider attending one of these free university-provided sessions if you’re having this much trouble. There is simply so much information ready and available at our fingertips that it seems almost disrespectful to criticise it in this way. Every important system has to be put through a set of internationally-accepted Heuristics evaluation for usability – I’m pretty sure this includes Studynet. Sure, there can be improvements, but like all things in life, it’s not perfect.

..What happened to tutors telling us things as opposed to PC monitors?” Major announcements are usually made during lectures...then again, that really depends on the competence of your course’s lecturers/tutors, and your own attendance. However, we could always go back to the archaic system before Studynet/intranets – giant bill-boards and pigeon holes, with all notices posted, where students had to physically drag themselves to view these several times a day.

I found the following comment regarding the security men just plain rude – “..They are, without a doubt, the most bored-looking people I’ve ever seen. They just sit there uselessly in their little glass case, like some kind of museum exhibit commemorating the days when human beings had worth..” Hmm, I think I can fix this. Let’s have no security men. At all. We don’t need any sort of higher authority present when things turn for the worse. We’re all responsible adults who can handle all matters of life, including situations of violence and aggression, successfully. Oh no, wait, we can’t *facepalm*

My mother has partaken in three different post-graduate courses since first attending university in her youth, and has experienced said university’s intranet. When I relayed the thoughts from this article, she shook her head. She exclaimed that university education has been facilitated immensely with the introduction of such schemes. Gone are the days when you had to trawl through dusty shelves at midnight, searching for relevant journals and books. You see, that’s the main benefit here – choice. We’re always complaining about how we don’t have enough of them, and yet when we do, we moan. Take a second and think of those in poorer, less-developed countries who are seeking to gain an education. They don’t have choices. They are simply happy with whatever resources they can get.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Technology is here to make our lives easier, to help us progress. If it wasn’t for technology and innovation, we’d still be in the dark-ages using slide-rules and abacuses. I understand that not everyone is technologically-minded, and thus would encounter difficulties. What am I saying? Even I have problems from time to time, and detest moments of “computer says no!” Nevertheless, when something doesn’t work, you don’t jump to random conclusions like: the gods are upset with me, that’s why I can’t send this text! The only way to overcome problems is with the use of logic and rationality, and when all else fails, asking for help when you really need it.

Having said all that, I have to admit I was a little freaked out whilst typing this out - I mistakenly pressed a keyboard shortcut which led to a Stephen Hawkins-esque voice to narrate what I had written. You’ve gotta love irony.

[This blog post can also be read as an article here =) ]

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