Right now, I’m pretty tech-heavy. I’ve been slowly reading Venkatesh Rao’s Breaking Smart essays. I’ve made my way through Kevin Kelly’s latest book about impactful technological trends: The Inevitable. And I’ve been enjoying The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (about virtual reality and viruses) and Cryptonomicon (about cryptography and data).
All this has got me thinking. But more importantly, it’s made me feel confused. See, I have conflicting views about technology. On the one hand, I appreciate it immensely. Today, we can do things and live in ways that weren’t even comprehensible a few decades ago. Technology has opened up some many options and given birth to so many possibilities for so many people.
But on the other hand, I can feel the impact the constant connected-ness of the world is having. I can feel the tendrils of interaction and information working their way into the very mechanisms of my thought and perception.
So I’m both excited and anxious.
I’m excited because it feels like I’m standing in front of a great, blank canvas onto which I can paint whatever I want. I feel like it’s more possible than ever to conceive and construct my own unique version of what I want my life and reality to be.
As Kevin Kelly said in The Inevitable:
"So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is the moment folks in the future will look back at and say, "Oh, to have been alive and well back then!" "
But I feel anxious, firstly, because while I’m standing in front of such a great, empty canvas, I don’t know how to paint on it. And when I do try it feels like trying to throw with my weaker arm; awkward, un-coordinated, silly, just plain wrong.
The second reason I feel anxious is that I’m immediately distrustful of optimism. I’m skeptical of the idea that technology will be our saviour and heal the immense damage caused by us puny humans. In my eyes, I’d prefer to be under-confident, better protected, and pleasantly surprised than the reverse; over-confident, under-protected, and disappointed.
This second reason for anxiety has also spawned a question. Can technological innovation outpace the consequences of human folly? Or put more informally: can tech shield us from the effects of our own stupidness?
This is an open question. I really don’t know. I would love to say, “Hell yes!” But hope creates a haze around the faculties of reason. So instead, I, like everyone else, will just have to wait and see, and do what I can to prepare myself for all possible outcomes.