Saturday, April 4, 2009
A Technophobia Free Zone
ne of the mandatory requirements of my career is a general understanding of technology systems, software and networks and the Internet. I don't need a detailed, technical understanding. I'm not a programmer, a developer or an engineer. Rather, I need to understand the basic components and how they fit together, how people use technology and how they use the Internet. As I discussed here, I especially need to know what happens when their use goes horribly wrong.
An example of this was the over-hyped potential disaster of Y2K. I spent the 3 years prior to 1-1-2000 alternately worrying about planes falling out of the sky, ATMs going dark, security systems shutting down, the potential of murder and mayhem , while at the same time pushing out reports reassuring the higher ups it would be fine. As cold as it sounds, I was actually disappointed when nothing terrible happened. I felt as if I had wasted several years of my life.
Overall though, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to spend a great deal of my time exploring the technology that runs our lives and the Internet that increasingly seems hardwired into our minds. My exploration and interaction on the web has progressed through the years from university library bulletin boards to the dial-in networks of Prodigy and CompuServe, from Lycos and Infoseek to Google, from The Well to Facebook.
Usually I learn just enough about each new trend, site or technology to understand its purpose, its allure and its weakness. Some have interested me far more than others and I have become a serious user and proponent. Others don't hold my interest to the same degree. I often dive into something new, then go silent, popping back in periodically to see what has changed.
I can't tell you exactly why but certain technological innovations and web destinations have captured my attention and affection - Audible, Wikipedia, Ask (although they should never have dropped Jeeves), Mozilla, Internet Archive, IMDB, too many blogs to name and the logic and ease of use of ASPs and SaaS. And I must mention my infatuation with all things Apple.
Others, such as AOL, ebay, Craigslist, MySpace, youTube, digg, MSN and most anything Microsoft related have not really rocked my boat. The jury is still out on Twitter for me.
I learned the hard way to be objective and keep a certain distance between myself and the latest Internet candy. In early 1999 I needed to understand the appeal and the process of downloading music. I started out exploring RealNetworks, Listen.com and eMusic. Then I moved on to the mother of all music download sites - Napster. I hate to admit this, since I am someone who believes in the sanctity of copyrights, but many, many, many, many pirated downloads later I understood Napster and it's allure. (I now gladly fork over my 99 cents a song at iTunes.)
I think one of the most democratic aspects of the internet, especially for someone that did not grow up wired, is the individual user's ability to pick and choose what they like and what they don't. What works for them and doesn't. Don't 'get' Twitter? Fine don't do it. Still love the quirkiness of The Well? Have at it.
One of the downsides with the rapid evolution of technology is I find something I love, but it eventually changes or disappears. I still can't talk about my decade long infatuation with the original Lotus 123. The best personal, money management software ever was Andrew Tobias' Managing Your Money. A DOS based application, it died years ago, but I still think of the cheesy graphics and smile. I resent the loss of the previous version of my 'My Yahoo' home page and while I am much better behaved now, I still get wistful for the instant gratification that was Napster.