Innovation brings change. From the beginning of time, humankind has distinguished himself via the use of tools and innovations to make tasks more productive. A Black Grizzly is happy to hunt in a stream for Salmon, but humans are not content with the slow pace of catching fish individually using only natural offenses. At first, simple pieces of wood were sharpened to a point, and made into a javelin that is cast into a stream to collect fish. Because of this technical extension, man reduced the amount of energy required to procure a meal. Javelins became nets, and nets became fishing farms. With the advent of modern fishing methods, and other farming breakthroughs, man no longer is preoccupied with where his next meal is coming from. Technology, when correctly harnessed is a catalyst that accelerates productivity. Technical innovation has allowed our thoughts to fill into a higher capacity.While keeping us fed, technology and innovation has had negative impacts on humankind as well. As the personal computer becomes more ubiquitous, concerns of the effects on mental and physical health become increasingly relevant. Technologically we are more connected than any civilization man has ever known. As events unfold from across the world, or even in the deepest regions of observable space, we are instantly updated on the situation with the mere click of a button. Bloggers, businesses, and news corporations, all generate syndicated content that is constantly dispersed throughout the Internet. These events are consumed, and passed into history as newer events succeed the last.
The social impact is much darker. Humans are more distant than ever remembered in yesteryear. People suffer depression on a level that is reaching epidemic proportions. People are simply not content. People isolate themselves, and while clicking on their personal computer, they neglect their relationships in the outside world. Even children have developed ADD, and ADHD and cannot concentrate on school because they cannot cope with the information overload.
Physically, the United States is a nation that idolizes good health and the perfect body. Yet the United States remains among the furthest from achieving this state, while being one of the most technologically progressed. Obesity has increased drastically in the United States since the middle of the century. This leads us to the paradox of technology: often the capacity to yield something from innovation is realized before the social implications are weighed.
At work, many white collar workers spend their 8-5 sitting behind a monitor. Time spent away from the computer is seen to management as productivity lost. Time away is time that could have been spent feeding arbitrary streams of information into a technical system. The work is monotonous, and the pay mediocre. If a worker were to quit and search the Information Technology jobscape, they would find themselves working for more or less the same wages, doing more or less the same work – but with new masters. We correlate our technical jobs with that of the assembly line workers almost a century ago. We serve the machine instead of the other way around.
Technological innovations can also be a benefit to work. Information is no longer held by the wealthy, and extracted at a high monetary cost. Information is freely available to any who request it via the Internet. This innovation is agnostic to wealth- even the homeless access the Internet via a public library. With this aid in our workflow, the card catalogs of old are replaced with search-driven and indexed results from a library’s distributed network. Not only can you search for a book by title, or author, you can see a any metadata imaginable, and check on its availability. If the book is unavailable at the current location, one can check the surrounding libraries for availability as well. Time saved is productivity gained.
Time is money for a business. Doing a head count on currently enrolled students at a given university used to be an ardous task of head-counting. Now, in a simple database query, one can know the count of currently enrolled students, and compare it to previous semesters. Statistically, scenarios are easy to calculate now that the information is electronic. Reports are compiled and presented to management, then consumed. Occasionally the metrics extracted from an information system garner radical change in an organization. More often though, these organizations are too reliant on innovation of technology to generate the answers. Systems are integrated that are not needed. Data is collected that is not used. Machines are upgraded to run all of the newer software at a speed comparable to the older, more simple software. Keeping up wih the pace of information technology is often expensive, complicated, and none for the better.Environmentally, innovation is enemy of conservation. Information is power, and in a struggle to best the competition, people dispose of good hardware for a more “powerful” solution. Our landfills are overflowing, and a trash island the size of Manhattan is swirling out in the Pacific Ocean. Computers are driven by electricity, and cheap production of such comes at a price to the environment. Lithium Ion batteries that hold electricity contain toxic chemicals, and cannot naturally biodegrade. Circuit boards contain lead that can trickle into drinking water. Plastics are produced that will not breakdown for 100,000 years. Humankind throws more and more into the burden of the Earth’s ecosystem to remedy, while openly acknowledging that we are a dependent of that very system.
Such are the things that innovation and technology have brought. While neither good nor evil, innovation, and technological improvements have a positive connotation. A look at the impact, however, of this innovation on ourselves, and in our workplace reveals what is forfeit. Often technological innovation mandates that we trade the very qualities that differentiate people from machines.