The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

5.30.2013

"The Future of Technology Isn't Mobile, It's Contextual" at Fast Company


"Our senses aren't attuned to modern life" this article claims, "And that's a problem." But the modern life is one ensconced in technology. And the technological paradigm looks for technological solutions to technological problems. 

The same things is happening here: contextual computing. The company behind this article suggests four domains where data needs to be collected and integrated in order for contextual computing to develop: social, interests, behavior, and personal. If we can gather enough data in these categories, people will be better able to connect to one another. 

The article imagines such a future: "gentle nudges by software and services can bring together two people who are strangers but who could get along brilliantly and are in the same place at the same time. It could be two people who share a friend and who simultaneously move to Omaha, where neither person knows a soul."

It goes on: "Despite the ethical ambiguity around contextual computing . . . companies are actively constructing these graphs already." "Contextual computing will generate relevant options for us, just as our brains do." In the end, "we'll have wearable intelligence."

"Out-of-the-Loop Performance Problems and the Use of Intermediate Levels of Automation for Improved Control System Functioning and Safety" (pdf) from Process Safety Progress


One problem with automation, and technology in general, is that it removes humans from having central roles in their own society. Those central functions are outsourced to technology. 

This is a technical article from 1997 on automation problems. I found this paper fascinating for the problem its address: when work becomes automated, human controllers end up of "out of the loop." This creates problems when the system malfunctions. Because of automation, the human controller may have developed numerous problems including "overtrust," "complacency," "boredom," "lack of vigilance," "skill decay," and "loss of . . . situation awareness." 

This last problem dovetails nicely with the previous article on "contextual computing." If we choose to outsource to computers our situation awareness (aka, "context"), what will happen when the automation malfunctions? Will we be aware that a malfunction has occurred? When two people in Omaha should meet, should it be technology that connects them, or perhaps their mutual friend? Automation removes mutual friends from having a central role in connecting people.

"The Fading Art of Slow Communication" from Her.meneutics

Written by a friend and colleague of mine, this is a moving piece about handwritten letters. She describes finding a box of love letters written by her grandparents while her grandfather was fighting in World War II. She describes her own hushed reverence toward them and a sense of "sanctity" surrounding them. 

Her reverence exhibits something about our humanity and about our relationships to objects and what they symbolize. For readers, these love letters might be endearing, but to the author, a granddaughter, the letters symbolize something of her own identity. In a very real way, these letters contain a piece of who she is and why she is. As objects, they become symbols. And as symbols they deserve this reverence. 

In our modern technological context, devices have become the objects we use in place of letters, but somehow we don't endow our devices with a similar reverence. We can't somehow, perhaps because they are ephemeral, or because their content is digital and intangible. Whatever the reason, there is an emptiness in the modern objects of our technological life. This is not simply a nostalgic loss. It's a real one.

More Textures:
Warp and Woof 5/25/13
Warp and Woof 5/17/13
Warp and Woof 5/10/13
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