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Danger Lampost

Futurist & Technology Consultant,

TEDCRED 10+

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How has the Internet and ubiquity of mobile phones changed your quality of life?

Starting my sixth decade here on planet Earth, I am struck by how younger people these days only know a world with the web and mobile phones. After leaving a job at the mobile phone division of a major software company, I spent the next year doing an experiment: I did not touch a mobile phone for a year. I was struck by how much lonelier our public spaces have become. It can be difficult to meet someone somewhere these days without a mobile phone, or to travel long distances, especially with the disappearance of most pay phones.

Has online dating really improved the quality of our personal relationships? Some studies suggest they have not. What about getting a job? We've had higher employment rates in our past before we ever had an Internet.

On the positive side, we have this powerful tool for gaining knowledge. But then I think, how did Einstein come up with all that stuff about e equals m c squared without any computers? And how come we rely on so-called primitive, indigenous people to teach us about life saving drugs from plants, that we then patent and make billions of dollars from? How did we ever manage to elect a president before the web? Politics is working better now, right?

How old should a child be before they get their first cell phone?

These are extra-ordinarily powerful tools we have and they enable rapid knowledge advancement, meme exchange, democratize people - so many wonderful things and am just scratching the surface. Before we forget how it used to be before the web, are we giving up something really valuable? What's better these days? What's worse?

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Closing Statement from Danger Lampost

I was about to reply to a number of comments and I feel like this conversation was just getting started but it appears to have been closed within a day, I'm not sure why. I tried using the Contact form to ask someone why, and it doesn't work for me. I clicked on the profile for one of the HOSTs here, and that does not bring up their profile page, nor can I find this host in the "Looking for someone?" link on the left. So, left with no other way to ask this question, I am unfortunately putting a plea here for someone to help me understand what happened in case there's something I can do better? Would have liked to continue this more - I think there's quite a bit more to say on the topic (at least for me!)

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  • Nov 20 2012: The internet has made life easy for me with access to information, connection with business associates via email, promotion/publicity for film productions, conversations with the best brains on TED........a lot of good.
    But good things always have the potential to be turned to evil by foolishness or misuse. So, on the internet we've got stalkers (as an actor we've got fans sending naked pics to us), rapists, fraudsters, paedophiles, shallow relationships, distracted teens, cyberbullying, hackers, porn addicts, online training for terrorists and so on.

    Only human beings can make the world better than it is, or worse. Not gadgets or inventions or technology.
    • Nov 21 2012: Very Very well put. Completely agree with your point. Its human beings who do the good or the bad.

      This is a subtopic of - "Are we happy than our forefathers"

      I don't know about happiness conmarisons, but given the choice I would have wanted to be alive in these times than back then.

      About, how old a child needs to be to get his first cell phone ... It can be seen to varry widely amongst society. For a middle class Indian like me I got my first cell phone when I joined college ! Then again, my cousin got it during his school days !
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    Nov 21 2012: This is true. One can without effort and by accident run into people one would otherwise never have encountered with schizotypal or psychopathic leanings, who do their harm or destructive prank under cover of anonymity and with potentially broader reach than they have in offline life.
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      Nov 21 2012: I experienced something quite interesting reading your comment. At first I thought you were going to extol the virtues of getting to meet a schizotypal personality online in a way that you might otherwise not (schizhotypals aschewing social situations), thereby getting a chance to sample a broader swath of human personalities including those with mental disorders. Then I read the word pscyhopathic and I realized you were talking about how mentally ill people can hurt others. I would guess more harm is committed by people with no diagnosed with mental illness, although you could argue about whether more people have these kinds of disorder than we realize.
  • Nov 20 2012: Every new technology has negative effects. In the USA we pay for the convenience of the automobile with about 40,000 lives every year, due to accidents. The internet and cell phones also have negative effects, but the positives vastly outweigh the negatives.

    One of the big negatives is the lack of privacy. It is the stated mission of the National Security Agency to monitor ALL electronic communications in this country. To some extent, we are giving up our privacy willingly to gain the benefits of the technology; Facebook is about sharing, not privacy.

    We seem to be accepting identity theft as a risk that is worth the benefits of a modern electronic lifestyle. The financial institutions have us all convinced that this is a consumer problem and that the consumer is responsible for avoiding identity theft. The effects of having your identity stolen are certainly a consumer problem. But in fact, each act of fraud committed by the thief is committed against an institution, not directly against the consumer. Stopping this fraud is completely the responsibility of the financial institutions. They do not want to take the measures necessary to stop it because it would cause inconvenience for all of their honest customers.

    I would like us to change the way we manage these negative effects of new technologies. For some reason we took a very different approach to air travel and made it the safest form of travel. We might use that as a model for other new technologies. The technologies that are becoming available are so powerful that a lack of planning for the negative effects could literally wipe out the human species. I am thinking primarily of nanotechnology and genetic modification, but there will be others that I cannot imagine. We are now a lot more aware and knowledgeable about unintended consequences. It appears we do not have the will (or wisdom?) to apply this knowledge.
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    Nov 20 2012: The internet has greatly increased my access to information of all kinds, saving me lots of time that I can use productively. Email has allowed me to stay in touch with friends, my children, and colleagues at a much lower cost than I could when needing to rely on telephone and to do things like exchanging and reviewing drafts much faster.

    I am part of the 'online learning revolution," and have had a chance, thanks to the internet both to learn with and to teach students all over the world.

    Being able to take my phone with me has made it easier to be wherever I want to be without worrying my kids cannot reach me if they need me.

    I do not have, and have never had, a smartphone, so I cannot comment on that.
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      Nov 20 2012: Those are all very positive things. Do you feel like you've had to give up anything in the process?
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        Nov 20 2012: As a first order effect, I need to pay for my phone and internet service, which potentially displaces an expenditure on other things, but there is not a specific thing that comes to mind that made that choice difficult. As I work mostly online now, and as only one of my children lives within 500 miles of me, the net gain is large.
      • Nov 21 2012: I don't think its possible for people who are avid users of smartphones and Internet for that matter , to tell if they have missed something in the process of being accustomed to this. Being of the same category myself, I failt to imagine what I could have missed out on as the importance of gains is so large, its hard to foucs on if there are any losses. The fact that we can't imagine ourselves without our gadgets renders it impossible to think about what these have cost us, if anything.