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Cutting corners

Talking about technology is one of those almost funny modern conversations where the topic somehow seems a little tired, worn out or stale despite the fact it’s quite clearly at the cutting edge of human civilisation. It’s as if we have nothing to say, no answers, no real agreement over what’s going on, how to manage it, or where it’s leading. Yet, we also have very much to say as it’s affecting our lives so deeply.

Maybe it’s that we’re getting exhausted by grappling with this ever-changing force that’s reshaping so much? Maybe it’s that we’re feeling powerless; resigning ourselves to the fact that ‘this is how life is’ and we must adapt to its demands and the world it’s creating for us. Maybe it’s that, so much happening simultaneously, it’s practically impossible to pin down and work through it all to reach common ground (see Notes One).

Or maybe I’m misreading it? To me, these conversations spin and churn with often intense energy, concern and emotion, yet never quite connect that purposefully with reality. As if we’re expending a lot of energy trying to keep up with something we don’t quite understand. We see and feel the impacts, and our brains naturally want to see what’s going on so we can respond well to what life’s throwing at us; but it seems it’s almost too much, too diverse and widespread in its manifestations to elicit simple, universal answers.

Because, in many ways, modern technology’s simply changing everything. It’s taking how society was and developing new solutions or systems to manage, improve, streamline, reorganise, speed up, coordinate all these patterns of activity that make up our lives. Which is essentially taking complex realities and reducing them into something simpler, more integrated or accessible.

In a certain light, it’s cutting corners: taking processes that were once known, embodied, and understood and placing them behind closed doors for our convenience or enjoyment. Any tool likely exists to make things easier that way, to cut corners and save us time and energy for other things.

What I find interesting with that, though, is the question of whether we still know what was on all those corners. And, whether that’s important or not. We’re being ‘saved’ from having to do or understand all these things, and that gives us this whole new raft of opportunities for how we might live and relate to the world around us. But, do we actually know what we’re doing? Is there value to knowing what we’re doing? (Notes Two)

It’s like those who’ve lived through the shifts within banking: from very manual back-office cash handling through gradual mechanisation, as once intensely personal and considered relationships drifted through this process of digitalisation into quite different, impersonal estimations of our worth or capacity.

Those who fully understand what’s going on can act very confidently within it; but to those who interact mainly with deceptively simple interfaces the risks and realities of what lies behind them can be hard to comprehend.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Technology & the lack of constraint
Note 1: Desensitised to all we’re told?
Note 1: Cost and convenience
Note 2: Where would we stand if this were lost?
Note 2: Is anything obvious to someone who doesn’t know?
Note 2: Market forces or social necessities

In a strange way, this relates to What if it all means something? which also touched onto ideas of understanding, intention and consequences.

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