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Does modern technology control us?

March 10, 2008

by Mark Ollig

This was the topic being discussed on a blog I recently visited.

A few stories on the subject from the past and present come to mind.

My seventh grade science fair project was about US spaceflight.

In a letter to NASA, I wrote asking if they could send me information about the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo space programs.

Three weeks later, a large package from NASA arrived.

Inside were many glossy photos of astronauts and space capsules, along with printed mission report papers.

Using today’s computers and Internet technology, I could have easily obtained the same information (and more) in minutes from the NASA web site, without the wait.

So, one positive about modern technology is it saves time and provides instant access to most information when you need it.

It would make an interesting local blog topic for students in our area schools to share how they are benefiting from today’s modern technology.

Being in the telecommunications industry for most of my life has allowed me to witness first hand some of the dramatic and beneficial changes which have occurred because of improvements in modern technology.

The processing of our telephone calls for years was completed by using copper wiring, electrical relays and electrometrical switching equipment over an all analog method of transmission.

Back in those early days, a telephone “circuit” was described as “a reliable talking path.”

During the early 1980s, a new voice call processing technology became popular in the telecommunications industry.

This new “digital” processing technology provided reliable “Time-Division-Multiplexing” of phone calls using state-of-the-art microprocessors and built-in software program functionality.

Today, telecommunications call processing is moving to a “soft-switched” data-packet processing network using Internet Protocols (IP) and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Session Initiation Protocols (SIP) signaling technology.

What future technology will be processing our grandhchildren’s phone calls. I can only speculate.

As I wrote in a past column, I have no doubt that future technology would seem like magic to us today.

Seeing “what’s next” is one of the things I enjoy about living in today’s modern technological society.

On the other side of the technology question, one blogger states the “overuse” of some technologies has made us “overly” dependent on them.

Many years ago, I was in a store during a summer thunderstorm when all of a sudden the power was out.

Sure, the cash register did not work, but this did not cause a panic – the people in the store just took their items up to the front checkout counter.

A pencil and paper was used to figure out the total amount due.

It was no big deal; the pencil and paper did not require any electricity to operate, it only needed a human brain.

There were no computerized cash registers linked to any in-house computer system to worry about either.

That brings us to a more recent incident which happened to me a couple of years ago.

While shopping during the Christmas holiday season, I was in the middle of one of those large “box” stores packed with people when all of a sudden – the lights went out.

I suddenly heard a loud battery-operated buzzer blaring away.

Also, a brightly lit red-flashing strobe lit up in a corner of the building.

You would have thought we were under a nuclear attack.

People in the aisles unknowingly stopped – frozen in their tracks.

A look of confusion showed on their faces – they did not know how to react to the buzzer and the red lights.

Some people rounded up their carts in a circle and asked each other, “What is going on?”

Store employees emerged from the back room with flashlights checking each aisle. A beam of light shined in my face with someone asking me if I was “all right.”

“Yes, I am fine; just get that light out of my face . . . thank you very much.”

Then the stampede was heard – customers make way with their rumbling carts towards the front cashier.

As I pushed my cart toward the counter, I noticed the line wasn’t moving.

There must have been about twenty carts waiting in each isle.

Store personnel were running back and forth among the check out aisles in confusion.

They could not check out anybody because of the loss of power to their cash register machines.

I overheard one customer exclaim, “I only have a few items! Just use a pocket calculator!”

“Well, I can’t,” the frustrated store clerk explained. We need the cash registers to record each transaction directly into the computer system and the computers are down.”

I slowly shook my head as I listened to this explanation being used by each store employee and recalled the story about the pencil and paper.

The power eventually did come back on (along with the computers) and shopping resumed its normal course.

I only have three words to say: “back up generator.”

Your humble columnist’s opinion on modern technology takes the positive position about its place in society.

I would like to think we will use modern technology in the best way possible to educate and advance not only ourselves and our children, but our society and the world in which we all live.