Saturday, November 24, 2007

Before Digital

I was musing last night about how many parts of our world have gone from analog to digital. Consider:

Bank Tellers to ATMs
Newspapers to news websites
Letters to e-mail
Phone calls to text messages
Personal support to phone trees
Conversations to blogs
Floor mops to robotic floor cleaners

The list goes on and on. What seems to be the common denominator is what Nicholas Negroponte described in his 1995 book Being Digital as moving from "atoms to bits". The theme is one of depersonalization. We talk less to people and more to our technology. These are less conversations and more monologues. We lose track of who is on the other side of the dialogue and in so doing, we lose track of ourselves.

Maybe my techno-angst is just a function of my age. My kids (college age) are much more connected with their friends via Facebook and text messaging than I was with my friends at their age. I never see my kids read a physical newspaper but they are better informed than me about what is happening in the world through web-based news. And yet... and yet... something is surely being traded for all this digital connectivity. We gain a global neighborhood and lose the one we live in.

There is no going back on any of this, of course. And there probably shouldn't be. When the world shifted in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, people left the villages they had lived in for centuries and never looked back. The Digital Revolution we are now living in is creating its own set of profound consequences. Just as most of us have no sense whatever of what it was like to live in a rural setting raising our own food and making our own commodities of daily living, people in the future will have no sense of what it was like to live "BD"...Before Digital.

I love my digital world. I can write blogs like this one. But I miss my disappearing analog world, too. Just yesterday, I was reminded of the good and the bad of the all of this when I called iRobot Customer Support about a problem I had with our Scooba floor washing robot (yes, we love our techie appliance). After being put through a phone tree and then put into a twenty minute holding queue, I finally got to talk to a Customer Support Person. This young woman was very knowledgeable about their product and took me through a series of steps to try to resolve the problem. When that didn't work, she told me they would send me a brand new replacement Scooba within a week and we should return the defective machine. This was a warranty replacement but there were no hassles, no questions. It was great. And I had a real sense of connection with this young woman as we tried to fix the problem. This might be the best of both worlds: digital enabling conversations with real people.

We move inexorably forward, swept along by the technology around us. Hopefully, we'll like the place this tsunami takes us.

[Image of iRobot Scooba from Wikipedia]

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