Monday, 27 October 2014

There We Were, Now Here We Are; the internet and technology

The first time I used the internet, was whilst at university. It was 1995 and I was using the on-site intranet to be more accurate, in one of the rest and study areas on the campus. 

I can vividly remember that my conversation was about trying to start up a regular musical jam session meetup, at (or around) a room annexed in the student union. I was pleased as punch at some of the responses, even though the jam itself didn't happen. It was just the prospect of using this new-ish technology  to get a response and being able to respond back faster than postal mail, which was really exciting.

Many years later when I qualified as a CIW administrator, I can remember a part of what I learned centred around the concept of nettiquette, which was geared around online social behaviours. That was an eye opener, as there was a fair amount to cover with regards to real-time online communication and the do's and don'ts there in. Some of this, ironically has evaporated with the advent of the mass integration of real-time social networking useage. 

But back in 2002, there was a lot of information about using an online messenger style service, which if I remember correctly didn't have anything beyond a real time text based system, with some GIF useage thrown into the fray. All of this, plus the advent of social networking, online video streaming in real time and real-time audio visual conferencing capabilities now seem de rigeur for all of us. But none of this become  commonplace until  seven years ago, with Skype being one of the first workable technologies to combine all of this in a user friendly package. 

I'll leave the rest of the extensive developments since arpanet and the brilliant, innovative Tim Berners-Lee for another time, for that isn't what I'm trying to cover here. What I'm trying to recall is what it was like before all of this became a part of our lives, as much as that's possible, since it's been close to two decades for so many of us, including me.

It was a more sociable world if I'm honest, which is ironic considering how much communication we all participate in online. For me, as great as it can be to use social media, with its realtime response potential to generate connectivity, it still comes second to real world contact. 

No one, other than online dating sites, has yet solved this conundrum effectively.  In effect, how do we take all our hard earned ( and won) virtual links into the physical world, with consumate ease?  It does happen, but the rate of conversion is still about the same as online marketing. Again, in an ironic way, you can't be too shy using social media and networks if you want to make a valid impression and build a strong community of people, which are tangible and useful. Yet from some of the conversations I've had both on and offline with various heavy duty users, the impression I've come away with is that they're intelligent, quiet, reserved  types, who wouldn't fit what any traditional definition of the word extrovert . In effect, the internet lets  all of us to be as quiet or as loud as our rhetorical skill can muster.

In any event, I'm fortunate that I can walk away from the internet once I've 'clocked off' for the day, even though  it's a very helpful tool for me in various areas of my life. It allows me to reach out and connect to a number of colleagues and friends; this includes  both real world friends and some still in the virtual domain ( I'm including those I've Skype'd, tweeted etc, but not yet met in person in this context) . 

But security issues are now more commonplace, than used to be the case. Notwithstanding the Edward Snowden scandal from a few years ago, there always seems to be something wrong somewhere, such as the need for continual patch fixes for a browser plug-in or some security breach which has lead to thousands of leaked photos, and so on. And this has lead to more of a rethink, in terms of how much one needs to use the internet, across all areas of life.

Putting the aforementioned data security issues aside, the internet could do with a non profit organisation offering some form of regulatory gatekeeping. To some extent the ISP's  are meant to be spot checking (and vetting) data flows, but then there is a case of 'how much is too much?' in terms of potential intruision of communication. 

Nowadays, there is far greater emphasis on data integrity, with privacy being allowed to remain as intact as possible. But what about all those abandoned websites and blogs? What becomes of them? 

It's a complex situation worthy of a debate in itself, but there is a lot of 'landfill' building up on the internet.  Although this isn't generating a physical containment problem like a real world dumping ground, it is adding onto an increased (and arguably needless) digital footprint, akin to a hansel and gretel style 'crumb trail'. Excluding the commercially implemented 'cloud' data services which are a business in themselves and specialised,  there isn't any other form of  automated online archiving, collating and retrieval, other than the caching of pages that the search engines do, and that in itself isn't the full picture because they are profit-based systems. That is in no way knocking their effectiveness, because there is a lot of value to the hyper-fast results we get from using them, but the amount of data now floating around is vast, and it's just 'there'. 

The move over to IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6) should  (hopefully)alleviate the combined problems all this unclaimed or orphaned data has generated, because unlike our personal computing devices, there is no 'clear cached pages' button or facility on the internet and world wide web. In essence , we're also running out of naming/address space for new pages (and websites) on the internet, under the old system, which is called IPV4.  But the aofrementioned move will expand things enormously. For a fuller picture on that, and the interconnectivity to IPv6, reading this will provide the details. 

One of the other questions worth asking, is do we have a better world with the internet? Yes because we now have access to levels of information that we couldn't have imagined back in 1994. You can spend hours on the information superhighway, as it was once called, just browsing, learning, watching, listening and absorbing, along with window shopping at a magnitude that you'd never experienced before. 

But there in lies the rub. How much or how little time should you spend on there, browsing   and interacting with others, is a decision that is entirely up to you. And although the latter sounds like a preamble to general common sense, there are often instances when we all  spend what seems like endless hours on there, achieving very little.

And in that state, we're not harvesting information, creating content or interacting with anyone or anything. We're just zoned-out, and lost in some sort of pseudo-spiral of chasing something that's just out of reach. This is also interspersed with a benign, ad-hoc ponderance and a sense of mistyness and confusion, neither of which are particularly good for you on many levels. 

There have been many instances ( quite a number of them have been reported, ironically, on the internet itself), of people facing addiction like symptoms and requiring a form of 'cold turkey' to be treated for this perpetual desire to be online.  So from the other side of the coin, there are now bona fide sociological issues to deal with  as well.

But ultimately the internet is here to stay, and there's no doubt about it. There has been a huge amount of time, energy and money invested into a slew of virtualised infrastructures, that have transmuted into real world corporate ( and otherwise) trading. This is combined with  societal integration en masse, so it just cannot disappear overnight like some passing fad or trend. 

Having said that, there is a need to balance things out from a sociological perspective, because it is still ultimately a two dimensional experience. Until we head into the realms of smell, touch and taste as integrative technologies, then that will remain the case, even with something that steps into that direction; google glass and similar technologies are an example of going beyond the WIMP and touch/swipe  based experience.

In effect, all technology is dependant on a human to interact with it at some level, to complete its reason for existing ; it is primarily there to serve and help us, in my opinion. That's why more money is poured into tehnological development and innovation, for it to be continuously tailored and improved to make the man/machine synergy more palpable and seamless. 

But that relationship will always be a one way street, in terms of it's utility (or usefulness) and the resultant issue of satisfaction, which is a human experience. And I'm not buying into the 'Blade Runner'' style, artificial intelligence android interaction theories, because I've yet to see any computative machine engage in a more fully human way, than has ever been in existance before. 

For reasons of a highly complex conceptual/philosophical and even spiritual nature (it would make the article run into the lengths of a dissertation) , it's something that just cannot be computed, if you pardon the pun, with the accuracy that is required to generate and then create the myriad of personality traits that one individual can encapsulate. All in all, an ironically paradoxical state of affairs at this time.

And it's this aforementioned combination of reasons why it's important to remember that like all technologies (and I rely on them far more than I used to when I was a long haired student back in 1994), they will never be able to replace the experience of biological existance and interaction, in an absolute way. Thank god for that, because I wouldn't want to be deprived of my full english breakfasts every now and then on a weekend, replete with the occasional bit of actual indigestion as a result.  

Of course, you could always use the internet to tell a droid/robot to cook it all for you in real time, whilst you're a few miles away (resting after a long morning run perhaps?) via your smart phone.  And then get it to check the laundry room, whilst organising the house cleaning, together with suggesting recipies for lunch based on a calorie and nutritional count and content schema. 

All of that would be something I'd gladly be putting my thumbs up for.

(c) S R DHAIN

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