Unlimited data on the Internet is both good and bad. Pedestrian Pete admits that I’m no computer wizard, but I wonder: What is the outcome of the huge blocks of time spent on cell phones and laptops? With Google, Facebook, Twitter and thousands of apps, we have almost unlimited access to information on just about any subject worldwide — more than anyone could possibly use and digest. Is it data overload? What do we do with this mass of unorganized, random data? The answer seems to find niches, specializations, fields where we can retreat and feel comfortable, happily ignoring all of the other “stuff.” We can do this thanks to Google.
From “Just” Data to Knowledge
Data by itself, especially huge quantities, does not make us better, happier, or higher achieving human beings. What does matter, however, is knowledge, which can be extracted from all that information is. Thus the need to process (sort, organize, categorize) all that data into clusters that can lead to useful knowledge. That’s what researchers, politicians and scientists do, and it has made the world a better place.
Virtual Reality vs. Real Reality
This reminds Pete of a recent conversation with a high school girl about her friends. She seemed so glued to her cell phone that talking was difficult. “I have so many friends, I’m stressed just keeping up with them,” she replied. “How much time do you spend with them,” I asked. “Oh, I hardly see them at all, except in class – they are all Facebook friends!” she replied. Pete wonders, are these “real” friends or just quasi “virtual” friends? Has addiction to cell phones replaced the obsession with TV? Rather than connect us, does the Internet actually disconnect us? Does it thwart real relationships, eyeball to eyeball? Is the Internet blurring the lines between what is real and meaningful, and what is virtual and fleeting?
Two Restaurant Bar Experiences: The Cell Phone Dilemma Exposed!
Pedestrian Pete was recently sitting at the horseshoe bar of the upscale SaltAir restaurant in the Upper Kirby District, waiting for dinner guests to arrive. Pete checked out the other folks at the bar, maybe 30 people. Amazingly there was little conversation going on; almost everyone was glued to their cell phones mostly texting I suppose.
The following week, in New York City to attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Pete sat at the mezzanine bar of the chic Hotel Nomad, and observed below a huge noisy crowd having a lot of fun. I was astonished to see, unlike the SaltAir bar, not one person — not one — glued to a cell phone! Everyone was talking, eyeball to eyeball!
So, why is the bar scene in Houston so different than in Manhattan?
- In New York, a very high-density walkable city, most live in small apartments where entertaining at home is challenging. So the action is in public places like sidewalk cafes, bars and restaurants, the de facto living room for socializing. In contrast, Houston is a larger homes and apartments, so the action is in the TV “great room,” or the backyard BBQ.
- New Yorkers generally, at least those at hip bars, are highly energetic, probably well educated, and involved in a lot of interesting jobs and projects. So there is plenty to talk about and new people to meet. Techies go to places like the Nomad bar to meet other techies, or to meet a possible date. None of that interchange seemed to be going on at the SaltAir bar. Many of the couples seemed somewhat bored, so the cell phone was the friend of choice.
What Can We Conclude From This “Information Revolution?”
- First, the Internet can work both ways; it can better connect us to knowledge, to information, and to people, and link together those of us who share common interests and values – definitely a very good thing.
- In contrast, it can distract us, confuse us, waste a lot of valuable time, and stress us out. That’s not a good thing.
- The key question is: will advances in IT/information technology make us better human beings, more thoughtful and caring of others, and increase the happiness quotient?
- Will technology, such a self-driving cars or advanced mass transit, for example, make our cities and neighborhoods more efficient, interesting, walkable and beautiful places?
Pedestrian Pete wants to know what Free Press readers think. Connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.