effortless information sharing

Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.1

This one doesn’t sound like good news to me. I want to understand how things work, not just trust that they will work. For example, when Microsoft introduced Windows as a replacement for DOS, I wasn’t happy. I knew how to make my PC do what I wanted by typing in DOS commands at the c:\ prompt and I wasn’t comfortable trusting that Microsoft or any other hardware or software manufacturer knew better than I what I wanted from my PC. It is the reason it took me so long to try out Apple products. I’m still not sure how my Mac puts information away when I shut down my laptop. And if I don’t know where stuff is, I don’t know how to find it when I need it.

Gradually I have come to understand that I can probably find any file I need through Search, but that often just makes it obvious that I’ve been putting things away – usually photos – in many places so that I don’t lose them, making it all the harder for me to find what I want when I want it. Observing my colleagues struggle with those same questions of where should/did I put it and how can I find it again on the SharePoint platform that I support in my work life just reinforces my lack of comfort with any solution that someone tells me is invisible or through machine intermediaries. I have taken the time to learn how SharePoint “thinks” so I can get the results from it that I need. My colleagues all seem to want SharePoint to do just what they want done – and nothing else. They complain that “SharePoint is stupid” when it doesn’t work that way. Are they giving computer software so much credit they already think we are at the “flowing like electricity stage”?

On the opposite end of the scale from me perhaps is the person who trusts that every computer program will do exactly the right thing every time. I remember struggling to keep myself from laughing as I read the document prepared by a colleague many years ago. He thought that whenever Spell Checker suggested a different word as a possibility, it must be the right word, so he accepted all the suggestions.

These days, it is the intersection of technology and commerce represented by Google and Bing search results that concerns me. We have all been sucked into thinking that search engines will provide us with exactly what we want, so clicking on the first link seems the logical right step. Most of the time I remember to check to see if the top result actually deals with the words I typed into the search box, but every now and then, when I am in a hurry, especially when I am on my iPhone, I forget and click a link that takes me away from what I want and over to something similar, but not quite it. The first time I realized this was when I used my iPhone to look up the phone number for the local taxi company. I knew the name. I knew the city I was in. I typed them both into the search window and clicked on the magnifying glass to get the result and assumed since I had been so precise in my search criteria the first entry would be what I wanted. I called the number and was very surprised to hear the name of a competing taxi company when the phone was answered. I felt tricked by Google.

Maybe I don’t need to worry about how search engine results will skew my options a few years from now when my memory isn’t as good or my reflexes quite as quick because I probably won’t be doing much online searching then. But if this first thesis of the digital future comes to pass, I won’t need to type text into a search engine window to get those skewed results because the information will come flowing to me invisibly, like electricity, through machine interfaces. According to the Pew Research article this thesis comes from, Joe Touch, director at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, predicted, “The Internet will shift from the place we find cat videos to a background capability that will be a seamless part of how we live our everyday lives. We won’t think about ‘going online’ or ‘looking on the Internet’ for something — we’ll just be online, and just look.”

This first thesis conjures up images of I, A Robot, or The Matrix, good movies but mostly because we thought of them as fantasy or science fiction, not our future. And haven’t they heard? Electricity can kill you.

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