Archive for August 2, 2012
“Why should anyone learn anything about computing? I don’t know anything about how my car works — I just drive it!” Maybe people should know something about computing so that elections staff can avoid losing millions of voters worth of information? (Thanks to Elizabeth Patitsas for this link.)
Elections Ontario staff who lost two memory sticks with the personal information of millions of voters did not encrypt the files because they didn’t know what encryption meant, privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said Tuesday.
“They went online, they Googled it, and the closest they could discern was that encryption means zipping the data, which means compressing the data, not encrypting it,” Cavoukian said at a press conference.
The missing USB keys included voters’ full names, addresses, date of birth, gender and whether they voted in the last election — information that is a “gold mine” for identity thieves, warned Cavoukian.
I don’t usually buy into claims that “This generation is so different than us! And they’re lacking in this respect…” because the older generation often describes the generations coming along later as different and lesser. But I’m spending the summer in Oxford, and am seeing cultural differences and historical influences in a different way than I do living at home. So, I’m a bit more willing to buy into this argument than I might have a few weeks ago.
There are clearly changes in focus of innovation over time, and between cultures. I’m not convinced that they’re about moving along Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Some of them are in response to external forces. The “Greatest Generation” really did amazing things, in response to a real danger at their doorstep. The early days of computing dealt with much more fundamental and important issues than how to express your “Likes” and posting on Pinterest a picture of your latest meal to the world — but those fundamental issues had to be addressed. Now there are some answers to the fundamental issues (even if they’re not great answers), so the focus shifts elsewhere.
Maybe the real problem of our current inward-focus in technological innovation is a lack of a big problem, a concern that many share and see that technology can address. Or maybe the WSJ author quoted below isn’t looking in the right places. MOOCs do represent a technological focus on the big problem of education at massive scale. Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only new things in technology.
Ideas of progress are shaped by human needs, and broad shifts in those needs have necessarily influenced the course of innovation. The technologies we invent have tended to move up through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from tools that aid us in safeguarding our bodies to tools that help us to feel peppier, prettier and more special—from tools of survival to tools of the self.
Once our ancestors felt reasonably secure, their ambitions grew and they began to invent technologies of social organization. They created farms and cathedrals and weapons. These were followed, more recently, by technologies of prosperity like the steam engine, the assembly line, and complex systems of communication, power and finance. As our wealth increased, we began to crave technologies of leisure, and soon we had radio, television and myriad mass-produced consumer goods.
Now, finally, our attention has turned inward. Think of Prozac and Viagra and Adderall. Think of cosmetic surgery and of antiaging creams infused with stem cells. Think of Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest. Think of all the other tools we use to indulge our vanity and pursue our desire for self-expression and self-promotion. These are the inventions that we prize today and that our entrepreneurs are motivated to deliver.