Looking to the Past for Future Innovation

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In today’s world the ability to communicate effectively has become paramount. Our society’s need for instant gratification has led to developments in technology which have enabled us to access unprecedented amounts of information and interact with each other at dizzying speeds. Modern devices have not only given people more control over their daily interactions but also increased the available means by which they are capable of doing so. In order to move forward with continued success, it is imperative that we embrace the history of interactive technology – a guide which clearly demonstrates the need for structure, organization, and most importantly the skill to discern substantive content from that which is meaningless.

If a society is going to be prosperous, it must have a clear understanding of what its needs are. This way, new technologies can be developed to improve its quality of life. People must be able to clearly express their thoughts so that, as Licklider would say, “when minds interact, new ideas emerge” (21). Although technological determinists such as Sigfried Giedion, Leslie White, and Harold Innis may argue otherwise,

Sigfried Giedion

Sigfried Giedion

Leslie White

Leslie White

Harold Innis
Harold Innis

I believe the desire to enhance our lives is what drives innovation. A good example of this is the cell phone; a device created using the principles of earlier two-way radios in response to people’s wish to communicate freely wherever they wanted. Since its inception, further improvements to cell phones have made interacting readily accessible even in the most remote places, the benefits of which can save lives.

In 1968 Doug Engelbart showcased a groundbreaking (for the time) online computer system developed in response to the need for better organization, storage, and access to information in the workplace. Through this video presentation he and several colleagues were able to demonstrate how a user could organize, edit, and sort data as well as navigate through the system using hyperlinks. All of which could be done, while sitting a desk using a keyboard, touch pad, and a mouse, which made its public debut at this presentation (“The Demo,” n.d.). Most importantly though, was the fact that these feats were done through a ‘moldable medium’ (Licklider, 1968, p. 27), one that gave users control, including the capacity to update and improve existing functions by adding new, complex languages and programs.

By doing so, researchers expanded upon the three major elements of interactivity – networking, document processing, and computing (Halavais) – which allowed users to get involved and gave them the chance to contribute to their own effectiveness. In turn, this concept has permitted users to continue enhancing the capabilities of computers to the point that they are now a significant part of how we interactively communicate. Take Skype for example. Every day my girlfriend and I turn on our lap tops, log in, and use it to not only speak with one another, but also to see each other in real time while we talk…and she’s all the way in Peru! Still, even if she was close by it’s quite an amazing feature.

It is also important to note that regardless of how you choose to interact, the technology involved needs to be well organized. In his demonstration Engelbart mentions the use of compiler’s to keep track of everything and stresses the importance of getting systems to work together to make things easier for the user. Certainly Licklider would agree. While discussing the initial developments of what we now know as the internet in his article “The Computer as a Communication Device” he stresses that in order to increase productivity and efficiency, models must be in sync, and uniformity, along with data management and control, are crucial to the success of such systems (38). These principles are just as important today, especially since the amount of information available has significantly increased along with the options available as to obtain it.

However, even though present technology continues to afford our society many communicative advantages, it has also given people the chance to misuse the available resources. For example, anyone with a laptop and internet access can publish false documents, pictures, and videos which can have serious consequences. Because of this, the ability to sort fact from fiction is now more important than ever and we must make sure that truly significant attainments do not become lost in the mass of the inconsequential (Bush, 1).

As we continue to improve upon current interactive systems, the ideals and knowledge of the past will continue to remain a crucial part of how we move forward. Without them, future generations of scientists and engineers may lose the ability to develop the foresight necessary to meet our distant communication needs. The effect of which could be catastrophic. Vannevar Bush believed that prophecy based on the extension of the known has substance, while prophecy founded on the unknown is only a doubly guess (Bush, 8). In this day and age it these words still hold truth as we continue to make great strides in communications. (Link).

References

-Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic (1945). 3 Sept. 2009. http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush.

-Doug Engelbart: The Demo. 1968. 3 Sept. 2009. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8734787622017763097#

-Halavais, Alex. “Class Lecture on what an ICT is.” 3 Sept. 2009.

-Licklider, J.C.R. “The Computer as a Communication Device.” Science and Technology (1968).

-The Demo (n.d.). 3 Sept. 2009. http://sloan.stanford.edu/mousesite/1968Demo.html

In today’s world the ability to communicate effectively has become paramount. Our society’s need for instant gratification has led to developments in technology which have enabled us to access unprecedented amounts of information and interact with each other at dizzying speeds. Modern devices have not only given people more control over their daily interactions but also increased the available means by which they are capable of doing so. In order to move forward with continued success, it is imperative that we embrace the history of interactive technology – a guide which clearly demonstrates the need for structure, organization, and most importantly the skill to discern substantive content from that which is meaningless.

If a society is going to be prosperous, it must have a clear understanding of what its needs are. This way, new technologies can be developed to improve its quality of life. People must be able to clearly express their thoughts so that, as Licklider would say, “when minds interact, new ideas emerge” (21). Although technological determinists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_determinism) such as Harold Innis, Sigfried Giedion, and Leslie White (pics), may argue otherwise, I believe the desire to enhance our lives is what drives innovation. A good example of this is the cell phone; a device created using the principles of earlier two-way radios (http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blcell.htm) in response to people’s wish to communicate freely wherever they wanted. Since its inception, further improvements to cell phones have made interacting readily accessible even in the most remote places, the benefits of which can save lives. (http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2009/08/27/20090827abrk-hikers27-ON.html)

Uncategorized September 7th 2009

2 Responses to “Looking to the Past for Future Innovation”

  1. Twunked Says:

    I think that technological determinism is a good thing to bring into this — interesting especially as Bush starts his essay with a discussion of scientific progress in terms of warfare. Do these tools limit or augment human agency?

    Or, from a more Veblen-esque perspective, are our gadgets and services also a function of our desire to impress — tools to communicate status, rather than merely for communication as relational enterprise?

    Gosh, it sure is pretty here over in left field.

  2. Of rat brains and sea change | Twunked Says:

    [...] skills — which some would argue is both a learned behavior and a practiced skill — and tendency toward instant gratification driven by technology in their responses this [...]

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