Impacts of Technology Evolution

Today’s news chum brings three stories of how techlogical change may be bringing about (or brought about) unanticipated problems. The stories relate to the Titanic, the iPod, and teachers.

  • From the “What do you mean you sunk the Lusitania, Charlie?” Department: The New York Times has an article about an author who claims the Titanic hit the iceberg due to a steering error. In particular, the claim is that the error occurred because of changing technology: the world was transitioning from sailing ships that used tiller orders to steamships that used rudder orders. With tiller orders, to turn the ship right, you push the tiller to the left. With rudder orders, you turn the wheel in the direction you want the ship to go. Misinterpretation of orders is a common problem: I recall one spacecraft that thought it was getting imperial units when it was being sent metric.
  • From the “A Music Library in your Pocket” Department: The LA Times has an opinion piece on how Apple is abandoning the audiophile market by neglecting the iPod Classic. Specifically, Apple has moved their device from being “your music library in your pocket” (which was the goal of the first iPods) to being a box of magic holding for content purchased from the iTunes store. In doing so, they are neglecting the music lovers who want the library in their pocket—the people who don’t want to have to choose what music to put on the device due to lack of space. I’m one of those folks, with over 80GB of music… and growing. Further, their techology has made people tied to iTunes: once the music enters (especially if you use AAC/.M4A format), it tends to stay due to the time cost of reripping a large collection. I’ll note that the iPod Classic is still alive, although there are many believe that it is a dead pod playing, just biding the time until solid-state memory becomes cheaper.
  • From the “Leaving the Past Behind You” Department: SignonSanDiego (San Diego U-T) has a nice article about how would be school volunteers are being thwarted by their past. For example, if you wrote a bad check in college, you might be barred from being a chaperone for your teen’s school trip. This is because our paranoia has led us to do more and more background checks, and they are finding more and more data due to data repositories. How does this fit with the theme? Simple: there was an article a while back about how we can no longer run away from our past and our youthful indiscretions. Do something stupid, it goes up on Facebook, and it is with you (insert reverb sound) f-o-r-e-v-e-r. The situation with these volunteers is just one example, but the problem is well known on other fronts. When the nets were forming, we never thought about all the data that would be collected—we just wanted to read SF-LOVERS. But the evolution has had an impact. The notion of trusting a letter of introduction is passe. Who needs reference checks when you have Google?