Looking back, I came of age in 1977-79 when terminals connected to a Digital Equipment VAX 2020 were used to program in Basic and Pascal at U.C. Berkeley. At this juncture, computers were used to do exactly that…compute. My first job was for a firm that had a contract with the U.S. Air Force to write software to control satellites and keep tabs on what was happening around the world.
Then in the first half of the 1980’s, we began using desktop computers to replace typewriters in business communications. Desktop publishing came along and made these communications look spiffy, destroying the typesetting equipment industry. The office applications that became ubiquitous at this point were for word processing, creation of presentations, spreadsheets, and data base building.
Because Microsoft developed or obtained all four programs and “bundled” them into a “suite” of applications, the other players in office software fell by the wayside.
When I first programmed an Oracle database in 1984, I needed to know how to code. The “office” database software offered by firms like Microsoft brought data base building and usage to the masses by changing the way databases were created and queried.
In 1993, when I worked as an analyst covering computing technology as it was applied to publishing, something had just come along called the Internet. I used it to track the press releases disseminated by firms in my technology sphere. It’s origins were in our defense industry, but use of the Internet spread, first to users in businesses, and then to individuals at home (and now mobile). It’s utility was catapulted by technology called a “search engine,” the most widely used of which is called Google. The Internet added the ability to handle purchase and sale transactions with Amazon at the forefront, evolving to what we use today as an integral tool in our daily lives. I recently learned that Elon Musk played a role is this commercialization of the Internet through a role in PayPal, or the technology that immediately preceded it.
When I left the computer industry in 1998, the entertainment industry was “going digital.” Traditional methods of creating content called movies, television, videos were giving way to computer-based tools that were cheaper, and more capable. Existing content was being converted to digital form because it had huge value to the firms that owned it. We now live in an age in which entertainment content “on-demand” is the norm. My colleagues thought I was crzy in 1995 when I told them that there would not be much difference between a computer and a TV soon, the difference primarily being whether the device was in a living room or an office.
Something important with computing was beginning in 2005 when my daughter was a Sophomore at Stanford. A program called My Space had been written and was a “platform” for my daughter and her friends to share their activities, including photos and messages. A competing “platform” was developed by Zuckerberg et al. Thereafter, parents and other relatives that wanted to keep apprised on their children’s activities became users, encouraged by our youth. The communications platform kept growing to include everybody’s “friends.” A boyfriend of my daughter was very, very interested in what I had to say in 2009 about why I was not a Facebook user. He worked at Facebook. It was the program that ultimately “won” the battle for he hearts and minds of our youth, and most of those associated with them.
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Technological descendants of Facebook emerged and caught on very quickly. These included Twitter for sharing text snippets, and U-Tube for sharing video content. Yes, there are some others out there too like Snapchat and Tic Toc. Advertisers saw the potential of mining the personal data posted on Facebook to target ads to Facebook users. The revenues began to flow in by the billions. The use of these programs spread across the planet, and somewhere, somehow, nefarious players recognized the ability these tools afforded to control a population. Now we have Big-Brother. The newly announced Disinformation Board under Mallorkas is the sinister response embodied as a consequence of Elon Musk’s offer to buy Twitter being accepted and his stated goal of restoring free speech in the American democratic republic. We brought this upon ourselves by being so technologically adept and susceptible to addiction.
Mergers and acquisitions among these firms have made behemoths of a few of them, and squelched competition. The most powerful of these communications platforms are now acting as the arm of our government and they censor whatever content is deemed to run counter to the message our leaders want to convey. Opposing viewpoints are eliminated. People are canceled. Livelihoods are destroyed for those whose ideas and beliefs run counter to those in power. Even our local newspapers support this censorship. My own paper will no longer run many of my articles and Letters to the Editor because liberal management does not like the messages I convey.
Our searches indicate what we are interested in buying or knowing more about. Our posts indicate what we are doing and what we think about world events. Our government now wants to get our e-mail into this mix of communications that can be monitored via searches for “key words and expressions” to find people whose viewpoints run counter to the “woke” agenda. ATT has been asked to cooperate in this so that the reach of government encroaches on all digital, thus searchable, realms of communication.
In addition to revealing what is in our hearts and minds, we now see that technology is now used to control our pipelines and our meat processing plants. Our President has given Putin a list of the 15 sectors not to hack, or risk retaliation because America could be brought to her knees. This is on par with the stupidity of giving a list, in late August, of American and Afghan allies that the Taliban should “allow” to reach the airport. It is no wonder that so many Americans and Afghan allies were left behind. Running the Taliban “gauntlet” to reach the airport was not an attractive option.
In my second career, I taught high school through the 2018-2019 school year. Thus, I saw how technology, in the guise of assisting with learning, is, in fact, undermining some of our students’ ability to learn. Who cares about knowing how to spell when your computer or smartphone, tells you what word you are trying to key in? Get the first two or three letters and, poof, there it is for you to select.
I also saw my students, especially those who struggled with English, use Google in a computer lab to avoid thinking and learning. Give them a question to answer and they can just type in the characters in the question(or copy and paste if the question is already online), copy a few sentences of the highest “hit” as the answer, insert it into their Google Classroom document, and submit it electronically as their “answer.” This is likely to become more prevalent with hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from over a hundred countries pouring over our southern border. Goodbye American classroom.
Finally, in Arizona, we’ve seen technology used to corrupt our elections and it is at risk of destroying our democratic republic. It is ironic that signature verification technology should have made elections more secure. However, when you turn it off or reduce the number of points of comparison, poof, less secure. Image processing and recognition should have allowed us to accurately determine who voted for who. Set a parameter here, or there, and, poof, anyone with any political goal can adjudicate votes by the thousands and thus determine a winner.
This only takes a few corrupt people to implement. And with Internet capability in the election management system(EMS), most of these corrupt people did not even need to be in Arizona. The Elections Office in Arizona denied Internet connectivity capability, but Cyber Ninjas found a great deal of evidence that it took place in the EMS Server, the EMS Client Workstations(3), an Adjudication Workstation, and in component parts of the election configuration called REWEB 1601 and REGIS 1202.
In summary, technology is undermining our freedom of thought and expression. It is destroying our youth’s ability to analyze and learn. It is addicting our youth and many older people as well. Notice how China has limited digital gaming by those under 18 years to 3 hours per week. What does that tell you about how they believe technology will affect the next generation?
By Jennifer Mitchell Towner
Jennifer Mitchell Towner worked in the computer industry from 1979 to 1998. Under a program called Encorps, she became a high school math, French, and Consumer Finance teacher in 2009, retiring in 2019. She holds two BAs from U.C. Berkeley in Math and French and an MBA from Stanford University. The books she published in 2021, Good Boots and Kipper the Nipper are on Amazon.
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