Betrayed by technology!

June 23, 2011
Can you trust your electronic devices?

We trust that our security software will protect us from malware and the like. Browser pop-ups ask users if they trust the entity trying to send a particular file. So “trust” — a profoundly human verb — has moved into the technology arena and acquired additional meaning. (As I grow older, I have a new appreciation for finding new uses for old things…)

Betrayal of trust can, therefore, happen on both technological and human levels. As we all know, on the human level, betrayal is emotionally devastating.

Lovers of technology (and I am one) view their computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices with more than simple acknowledgement of their utility. We enter into relationships with these devices. We don’t just use them — we often either love or hate them.

For example, writers have long documented the intense emotional relationships between men and automobiles. Guys talk to their cars — especially older cars.

Remember the 10-dollar word “anthropomorphism”? It involves giving objects or animals human characteristics. It certainly describes the guy-car relationship.

Consider that computers too are anthropomorphic. They not only react to human input — they can operate independently! What’s more, computers communicate with us in words. All my car ever said to me was, “Door is ajar.” But my computer makes sounds, music, voices, and writes me mystifying messages — like “fatal error 5939293829,” or “An unexpected error has occurred.”

Meanwhile, more and more of our lives are bound up in computers. Our work products are computer files, not paper. Our calendars and to-do lists and address books are stored as ferromagnetic fluctuations. Our bank accounts manifest as lists of numbers on the computer screen, rather than in cash.

Even our entertainment has moved to the computer. An engineer colleague of mine has a multigigabyte hard drive devoted entirely to storing and playing MP3 files. Photo albums have moved out of shoeboxes and into Web-based picture-sharing services. And don’t forget games, educational software, and movies — I now see more people on airplanes watching films on their laptop DVD players or on iPads than on the flight’s TV screens.

So these things are more than servant devices; they have become our friends. We love them. We are in awe of their capabilities. We appreciate them.

And when they fail us — by crashing, behaving unpredictably, or eating our data and refusing to regurgitate it — we feel betrayed.

How could these powerful, beneficent slaves “turn on us”? Didn’t we keep them supplied with electricity? How can we bring ourselves to trust them again?

That’s the key question — and it should restore us to reality. Gentle reader, your computer is not a person. It is a machine, and it is subject to entropy — the tendency of the universe toward increasing disorder. Therefore, computers are not trustworthy!

So don’t wait to recover from the emotional shock of a machine’s betrayal. Immediately establish a functional, minimally invasive backup plan. I use a service called DollyDrive with my Mac. The original backup took a long time, even with my cable modem, but updates are now small enough they take just a few minutes every day. Wikipedia has a great comparison table of online backup services,

You can also backup your computer yourself. Today terabyte hard drives cost under $100. Also, keep your virus software up to date. Microsoft’s protection is free.

Yes, I’ve been betrayed by “the instruments of darkness,” but I’m over it now. And a little preventive care will let me avoid the emotional wrenching of betrayal by technology in the future.

— Joel Orr

Joel Orr is Principal of Orr Associates International and Chief Visionary Emeritus of Cyon Research Corp. Write him: [email protected]

Edited by Leslie Gordon, [email protected]

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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