What does it mean to be connected?

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As I listened to David Pogue’s talk this evening I was reminded of Dean Fisher’s lecture in class on Tuesday when he talked about ecosystems collapsing just after the point of maximum connectivity and efficiency. Here was this man (Pogue) who has made a career out of traveling the world reviewing new technologies, talking to an audience of hundreds of primarily College of Science and Engineering students and faculty and in the space of an hour and a half he hardly ventured beyond discussion of fun websites and phone apps.

David Pogue spoke enthusiastically about how great it is that he can put out an add on domystuff.com for a chore he doesn’t want to do, and have people bid on doing the task for him for the least amount of money. He has actually convinced The New York Times that they need to pay a college student $12/hr. to come to his office and box up all the sample technologies he reviews for his column and mail them back to manufactures!  Throughout the talk his mood was positive and humorous, rarely acknowledging the potential shortcomings of this whole-hearted embrace of technology. In the last two minutes he personified critics saying, “How are we supposed to keep up? Should we be concerned our kids don’t have any patience or that they are always looking down at a screen?” and his response was, “In the end society always manages to course correct.” That was it.

This is exactly the kind of self-assured, ‘no harm can come to us’ attitude that Dean Fisher warned about in his lecture. After listening to Mr. Pogue speak I can see how connectivity and efficiency could be considered detrimental to society’s survival; but there was also something there that made me reconsider; Pogue’s enthusiasm. He embraced so strongly this seemingly inevitable trajectory of connection and it got me thinking; being connected could be the very thing that saves us from the brink of disaster. Never has the potential for sharing of knowledge been so powerful. However, in order for connectivity to be our saving grace rather than our demise, people need to be more “connected” with ideas about, for example, sustainable farming or fracture critical systems rather than how to get someone to do our chores for cheap.

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