One cannot deny that the computer is one of the greatest man-made inventions, or that it has altered the course of human existence on the planet Earth. So, while the first computer set us on a path that would ultimately change all facets of our lives, it has undeniably become a necessity in major areas rather than just being a luxury item for the rich. That being said, what would happen if our computers suddenly failed us? Would we be able to survive a cyber attack that resulted in a catastrophic meltdown?
This question was first poised on December 31, 1999, when the entire world held its breath as we contemplated the coming new millennium. Would the world’s computers be able to handle the date change, or would they all crash at once? This was even more frightening to the masses since technology experts were divided on the consequences of a major meltdown, while erroneous information spread like a wildfire. Fortunately, this concern was unfounded as we all awoke to the new millennium with our computers working properly and our Internet alive and well.
Since the turn of the century, this fear has changed its direction to hackers stealing our identities, but still focuses on what would happen if a computer terrorist shut down our power grid, or interfered with our military’s capabilities to communicate among itself in a war zone. Add to that the danger of our president not being able to respond if a hacker were to invade the White House’s ultimate safeguards and ordered the detonation of a nuclear weapon. These concerns are real, as during the past decade computers (including smartphones, tablets, iPods, etc.), have invaded our schools, in many ways dehumanizing and changing forever the way humans communicate among themselves.
I do realize that in many ways this training is critical to our survival as a nation, since without this knowledge our children cannot compete in a world that is technologically focused to such a point that even most fast food restaurants use computers to take and track customers’ orders. Believe me when I say I am not being facetious or attempting to be derogatory to fast food restaurants since I myself began my working career at a McDonald’s. It is just that these fast food computer type registers further dumb down the user experience by using pictures to limit mistakes, rather than requiring the order takers to remember prices and/or specific order requirements. This, in itself, is not only an insult to the intelligence of the person behind the register, but further adds to their dependence on computers. It doesn’t require much brainpower for the order taker to push a button on the screen, and they aren’t even required to figure out how much change is needed when handed a $20 bill.
However, what I find indicative and somewhat disturbing is our preoccupation with social networking sites that require us to be attached via a computer to the Internet. While this interaction between users can be exciting for those who are housebound or for those who wish to re-establish contact with distant family, it is sad to note that these sites have too often become the channel through which some choose to bully others, resulting once again in the dehumanization of other human beings. It is common on some of the forums with which I have associated myself to see highly critical remarks made towards those who have asked simple questions. Do you think this doesn’t happen? Why do Web sites have volunteer moderators scouring the forums looking for trolls whose only purpose is to be annoying and to intimidate the unknowing? I don’t understand why this occurs or why people who live in the same household find it necessary to communicate through such a network. I know for myself that when I first joined a social networking site, I, too, became obsessed with re-establishing contact with family, friends, and acquaintances that I had not had contact with for years. However, after the initial euphoria wore off, I came to the realization that keeping in contact had a cost that included time I could be spending talking to my wife and children rather than being subjected to information that was unimportant to me personally. I don’t know about you, but what someone had for lunch or a repetition or regurgitation of what others have repeatedly posted doesn’t do that much to make my day any better.
For my family, at least, the Internet has several important uses such as paying bills or seeking out the best buys for a product, but what has become apparent to me as I surf the Internet is the obsession that some people have developed through the use of their computers. As I mentioned earlier in this article, using the computer to converse with others has become the primary means by which some individuals communicate, be it through texting on their phones, email, or their social networking sites. What happens, however, when the person on the other end cannot hear the intonation in your voice and an innocuous statement is misinterpreted and becomes a venue for an all out war? It seems to me that it is hard enough to interact with those around you when they can see you laughing or crying as you say something but without that it is so easy to have something misunderstood. Unfortunately, I know some people who cannot even sit down to dinner with you without texting throughout the meal, which means that they completely ignore those around them.
Our obsession with computers and the various technologies — such as cellphones — have consumed our lives. But some of us have made a decision to limit our exposure or even set our computers and cellphones aside at certain times. This is exactly what happened this past Christmas holiday in which, without saying a word to one another, all who visited our home turned off their cellphones and we actually talked and played old-fashioned boards games.
What about you? Do you take the time to put technology aside and to spend time with your loved ones?