Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

Is It Possible To Have Too Much Technology and Too Much Data?

Is It Possible To Have Too Much Technology and Too Much Data?

I’m not as enamored of “technology” as I used to be. It’s not that I don’t think technology is important; it is, and I love using it. It’s just that technology by itself I find to be increasingly, well, boring.

It’s uses of technology that really interest me, not the technology itself. I just don’t care much about things like clock speed, screen resolution, multitasking, or blue tooth range unless they really make a difference to how I use devices. I’m also not as interested in customizing or fiddling with the settings of my devices as I was when I was younger; I just want stuff to work so I can get on with it.

Perhaps I’m just jaded. I’ve seen technologies come go. Sometimes I make a winning choice, sometimes I choose the loser. I remember I preferred OS/2 to Windows, that’s how prescient I was back in the day.

One thing that has changed about technology that I do love is how widespread and easy-to-use even the most sophisticated devices have become. People learn and adapt very quickly when they find them something useful or fun. Look at how cell phones are used for banking in Africa and India. Look at how dependent people are now on devices for nonverbal communication and group engagement. Look at how portable books have become with the rise of tablets and readers.

This “democratization of technology” is a sea-change over what we had just 10 years ago. Who knows what things will be like in 2024?

I am concerned about technological overdependency and addiction to constant communication. I’m not personally convinced of the value of a lot of the constant interaction that takes place via mobile devices. I love mobile devices but I also respect the value of just thinking and interacting with the world around me directly rather than through the narrow portal of a smartphone.

Yes, I know that I can carry on a videoconference with a colleague in New York anytime of the day, something I wasn’t as easily or as cheaply possible 10 years ago. But I also like to occasionally “unplug” and just walk around and listen to the birds sing. When going on one of my morning or evening walks I no longer plug-in and listen to podcasts or audiobooks; I prefer now listen to the birds — and to just think. I get some of my best thinking done while walking and suspect that time devoted to low impact/low engagement social media can generate a background “social noise” that is not really as fruitful as more targeted, content rich, and personalized interactions with live humans and nature.

That’s one of the reasons I’m skeptical of the value in the short-term of wearable technology as a tool for delivering context aware information in real time. Do I really want to have personal net worth and other personal biography data of nearby people floating up in my field of vision as I work a cocktail party? If you’re paying attention to that juicy tidbit that just got beamed into your eye about someone you met, are you missing something else — a glance, a sigh, or a slight wrinkling of the corner of the mouth? Is the process of adding even well selected information to augment your sensory input in danger of distracting you from other more subtle cues, thereby resulting in a net decrease in the value of your total information intake and a reduction in your ability to interact meaningfully with the people you meet?

So, no, I’m no “Luddite” nor am I opposed to technology; I love using the tools to share my love of nature with folks whenever I get the chance. I am concerned that too much of a focus on devices and manipulation of various communication channels might not be leading us to the data-driven Nirvana some hoped for when the Internet was still young.

The irony is that, in experimenting with various ways to augment our attention with useful and targeted information, we may actually be reducing, not increasing, our ability to pay attention to the really useful information we need to interact with the people and the world around us.

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Copyright © 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald. Dennis is an independent project management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. He has worked throughout the U.S. and in Europe, Egypt, and China. His clients for project planning and project management have included the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Bank, AIG, ASHP, and  the National Library of Medicine. In addition to consulting company ownership and management his experience includes database publishing and data transformation, integration of large systems, corporate technology strategy, social media adoption, statistical research, and IT cost analysis. His web site is located at www.ddmcd.com and his email address is ddmcd@yahoo.com. On Twitter he is @ddmcd.

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