Technology: a reflection on this machine

A few weeks ago I returned to work within my universities’ largest library, were I work in IT Support. Over the summer they have done a lot of renovations, so much so, the same building looks completely new! But behind the exterior there are a lot of cables and a mass number of coloured screens: technology is used everywhere in the new library.

A human take on technology

I am passionate about technology. I don’t think I spend much time without it, this could be reading the news on my mobile ‘phone, or, catching up on an interesting video clip on-line. But technology doesn’t always get everything (remember the why technology gets it wrong post?), does it?

Technology does not get feelings

I was talking to a Librarian about the new gadgets within the library, as well as the use of technology in other sectors. It was interesting how we both agreed on a few points:

Technology is removing that human touch.
Self-service scanners / checkouts are putting human beings, us! out of jobs.
Electronic stores (such as the example of a bike store below) don’t allow us to have feelings with something.
Photo of an electronic bike store (inhabitat.com)

Photo of an electronic bike store (inhabitat.com)

Do you ever pick a fresh fruit over another fruit, even if it’s the same fruit, in the same container/basket?
We like to make connections with what we do. Now I am not saying we all have relationships with fruit (or another piece of food), for example, but I am trying to illustrate that as humans, this connection is important. This human touch allows us to think that we have just purchased a really good apple, for example.
We cannot form a relationship with a store
Electronic equipment is cutting the number of human beings within stores. But what about that little conversation we used to have with the cashier? We cannot form relationships with technology: technology is removing human beings from the ‘real’ world.
Technology does not cloud emotions
If a store’s closing up, the chances are that you will still get the item you are looking for are high. A shop owner is likely to let you quickly grab and buy an item, even if s/he is closing-up. With computers, they are either yes or no. As soon as it’s 18:00:00, for example, all transactions stop. Emotions are not taken into account.

Caring technology

Technology does not care, as such. It may be used within caring environments, such as a hospital, for example. But technology does not do feelings, nor is it likely to do so in the future. At least in the world in which we operate today!

Some blurs of emotions and technology do exist today, but they are not really used in everyday, real life. For example, smile detection on cameras enables the camera to take a photograph whenever a person smiles, but the same camera does not know how to associate this with feelings: camera’s do not know that smiling means happiness. It just knows to take a picture whenever we smile.

Do you care about technology, even if it doesn’t care about you?

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Why technology can get it wrong?

There is an article on BBC News‘ website this evening which explains a mother’s anguish at Facebook because she found out that her daughter was dead through Facebook. Why do these thing happen?

Report a deceased person’s profile

Facebook have a form allowing you to pass on validated information that someone has died, such as a friend or family member. Okay, this might be a good idea. Maybe it is good to have a memorial page to remember a person — after all it is good to remember someone online, right?

But this form does not collect people’s opinions on a death. Facebook treat a death like they treat people — just like a number.

Technology and feelings do not mix

No matter how much of a bad day you’re having, or how much you are enjoying life, technology will never really know your emotions. Okay, maybe Twitter can analyse words in your tweets to gather that you are angry, but they will never know why you are angry. Humans can always know, and should be the only ones to ever know how you are feeling.

The mother who found out her daughter was dead through Facebook will never know why Facebook was so insensitive. Maybe she will get an apology from them, but that will not make up for what they done to her.

Technology does not do emotions. Technology needs to take a step back to know that the people, human beings, who use their stuff do do emotions. Humans do emotions really well, in fact.

Examples of where technology gets it wrong because of emotions

  • criminal gangs take place online to vent their anger, or to play with other people’s emotions — they arrange to beat other people up, or even worse, kill other people. Technology can facilitate crime!
  • paedophiles can roam around on the online world to groom young children, and vulnerable adults. Technology does not always get people’s intentions. Technology can support other people’s (sick) sexual emotions
  • technology allows people to steal off other people’s stuff. Technology allows people to download free music, movies and programs. It does not take into account the creator’s loss. How are they funding themselves? Why is your favourite artist not writing as much music as they were before? Is it because they are not getting as much money as they once were? Does this mean we need to be more ethical, as the human being using technology?

Technological suggestion?!

Why does Facebook not send a private message to immediate family members, before they tell the world someone is dead? This won’t necessarily solve their problem, but it might make ‘finding out’ less painful. Facebook do know who and where people are, why don’t the humans behind these global companies get to grips with technology? We will never know why such managers get top positions in a selfish and global company.

As you can tell, I am a little angry with technology right now. It does not always get it right: technology sometimes will never know the full picture!