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Technology: The Best & Worst of Times

Somethingís different these days. There is less fighting at my dinner table and I think itís because of technology. Iíve concluded that weíre arguing less because virtually all debates can be resolved with a few taps of the cell phone.

I was watching a TV show where a wife was frustrated by her husbandís lack of attention. She said, ďWhatís more interesting that phone or me?Ē His said something like, ďWell letís see, I have access to 2,000 years of human kindís collective knowledge in my hand versusÖ.Ē He cleverly didnít finish that sentence but he makes a good point.

How did we ever live without these things? I remember as a college student backpacking through Europe one summer. After six weeks and eight countries, I decided to call my parents. This was the first inkling that I had even arrived safely. Today our need to be connected with others is so much stronger.

About the time I was traipsing through Europe, IBM was launching the first mass market personal computer. Todayís cell phone is at least 200 times faster and can store 100,000 times more stuff at a fraction of the price.

So how has a smart phone changed your life? Iíve only been ďsmartĒ for a few years now, but Iím amazed at how much of life is now phone-centric. I call, I email and I text. I check the weather, check the news and check the stock market. I check my flights, change my seats and get my boarding pass. I take photos, edit photos and then post the photos. I pay my bills, track my wifeís credit card usage, and deposit checks. I take videos, have video chats and make custom ringtones. I take notes, set alarms, make lists and schedule my calendar. I play music, watch movies and set my DVR. I shop for the best gas prices and comparison shop on-line while Iím in a store. I get news alerts, sports alerts and birthday reminders. And I do all of this with my nose buried in my phone.

Letís review. Everything in my life is apparently easier because of my phone plus Iím fighting less, communicating more and am always reachable. I forget less and get my chores done faster. Can we conclude that this is the perfect time to be alive? Maybe. But letís look at what else all this technology has enabled.

I went to a website that could show me what information about me they share with anyone who wants to buy my information. Now Iíve been known to walk out my front door in my bathrobe, so privacy is not my most vital concern in life, but I was curious what Iíve been inadvertently sharing. I went to AboutTheData.com and registered myself to see what they knew.

I felt like it was cheating when they asked me a ton of personal information before actually showing me my profile. They assured me that they were simply making sure it was me so that not anyone could view my profile (unless they wanted to buy it).

To register they asked me my date of birth. I told them. And when they showed me the results the first entry was date of birth and it was wrong. Hmm, not off to a great start. I was offered the ability to edit my profile, but I wasnít going to give them any help.

And then I started reading the 150 data elements they have amassed about my life. And for the most part they knew a lot about me. My ethnicity, education, marital status, and how much equity I have in my home are all data points available for sale. My profile knew my kids no longer live at home and what kind of car I drive. They had what they called a ďhousehold incomeĒ estimate. It was close. My profile listed a long list of purchases and it knew I buy on-line more than I buy off-line (itís my business after all).  A close reading demonstrated a personal weakness for electronic gadgets and womenís apparel (and just to be clear I donít wear womenís clothing; that was a mistake). The world apparently knows Iím a pet owner, that I own a PC and apparently Iím an avid music listener. Both my political party affiliation and the type of home heater I have are secrets to no one.

Despite what you might learn about me, I donít fish, donít hunt and donít frequent antique shops. I will admit right here and now for all the world to hear, that yes, Iím interested in my health (are you surprised?) and yes, Iíve purchased food and beverages before (Iím more interested in the person who hasnít).

The profile was generally accurate, but somehow it was reassuring that the profile wasnít perfect.

Technology is most certainly a two-way street. These are the best of times and the worst of times. Iím personally willing to trade a little privacy for the wealth of information thatís flowing through our fingers these days.

 

April 16, 2015

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