The internet has provided tools to improve the world that are, in a way, indescribable. For example, understanding the multitude of medical challenges people face becomes easier with the internet. Improving your language skills and understanding a foreign language is infinitely simpler. But there are severe challenges that come with the ease of the internet. Google and others cannot go unchallenged.
This all began as something to explore for me when within a month I had a chance to spend an extended period of time with two different biochemists on two different continents. Both of these men are utterly brilliant individuals and it was fascinating to have the chance to have prolonged dialogues with both.
The first is a retired college professor who is not really retired. He is in the middle of writing four textbooks at what most people would consider an advanced age.
He expressed complete faith in science and mankind’s ability to develop scientific solutions to every task at hand. He longingly saw the day when driverless cars were roaming the streets asserting complete confidence in them being a solution to our transportation problems. In his mind, we can develop an algorithm for every problem we face.
Next, I was a guest of a biochemist in Western Australia. With our wives, we shared two dinners at his family winery. Engaging with such brilliant people presents some fascinating conversations. When I told him of having my stent put in, he proposed that very soon algorithms would be developed to diagnose any medical condition one might have. I ran through how my situation was discovered and resolved. We began to clash in our paths here – he believes a computer will solve my medical needs while I put my faith in Reed Wilson (my internist and cardiologist) who, with his vast experience, figured out very quickly what was wrong with me.
I turned to my host in Australia and said to him “You are Gerry.” That is the name of the man about whom I just wrote -- in the U.S. They both had complete and total faith that an algorithm could be developed to solve every challenge mankind faces, even though they were half a world apart.
What is the reality for the rest of us? I love our advancements in computers and other devices. Just writing my weekly column is made immensely less challenging as I can scour worldwide information to research a topic at three in the morning from anywhere. But there are downsides.
Those downsides were displayed in a recent communication I had with a very public figure who will remain anonymous. He was telling me how the ever-invasive internet with some of its applications had dramatically altered his life.
He started by saying “I am starting construction on my house. I am having issues with (uninvited) people showing up at my house. I need to protect my youngest son. It’s for safety and for value of the house. Things aren’t getting better and I have weapons and my next dog is gonna be a pit bull.”
He goes on: “Thanks to the miracle of Google Earth we have NO privacy!! None and you can’t get off. I wrote Google a nasty note about publishing my info as it is also published on websites when I am in and out of town. They scammed a photo of my house .. which is old anyway...”
“All I can say is Orwell had no idea how bad it would be.”
“Thanks to Waze we have traffic like never before. When I bought this house it was so quiet, no stop signs, no people that didn't live up here... it was so cool and mellow... then.... we have what we have now -- mayhem.”
“Have a nice day my friend and thanks for noticing the tune. It won’t sell. Nothing does. People steal music. Why buy it? Why do you think I am on the road 200 days a year?”
“Google and Facebook.... or as I like to call it Hatebook. The things people say to each other now.... fact-less b.s. that just is never ending... I barely look anymore. I don’t get into it on threads on message boards, I don’t have the time or desire.”
“The iPhones all of it... we are losing our humanity. The ability to be social. To be REAL! To have a conversation not an argument. Not everything is a straight up yes or no answer. What ever happened to working together for the greater good?”
“Why do you have to choose a side? I don’t. I won’t. I just want what everyone wants. Peace and prosperity and my family safe and healthy. Hope for a better future for all. Does one need to choose a side for that?”
“Hey, I love my tech and hate it at the same time. It stole my business and took 80% of my money away.”
“Everything is fake now. Where's Walter Cronkite with the news, not an agenda or a wink or an 'alternative truth'.”
“Music, food, water, air, healthy, hope, no one is nice anymore... it’s rare. No social skills staring into a cell phone all day long.”
That is one man’s opinion about the benefit that we have derived from all those algorithms. He has to rebuild portions of his home because of its location being disclosed and strangers coming to his front door because of his celebrity. A quiet neighborhood has now become a major thruway. His income has been destroyed by people stealing it over the internet thus necessitating him to be away from his family for extended periods to replace it.
In addition, he is convinced we have lost our humanity as people bury their faces while staring at their phones looking at strident comments from people they barely know.
We can all agree we love our tech, but there is a lot to dislike. We certainly don’t want the self-appointed gods of tech ruling our lives, restricting our speech or what we can read. It may be time to rein them in.