Challenges of the information age (Part I) – The advent of the digital age

The advent of the information age

No one who is not either a genius or a fool could have anticipated the direction of humanity’s development in the second half of the twentieth century. I am thinking specifically of the unimaginably rapid development of information technology, and with it the advent of the so-called information (also digital, computer) age.

My generation (millennials) still knows life without a personal computer, without mobile phones and the Internet. All these conveniences already existed, of course, but they were not affordable for most people, nor were they considered necessary household equipment by society as late as the early 1990s. So we were able to experience the technological revolution in a kind of accelerated, condensed version during our adolescence.

Examples of technological progress

Many interesting examples can be found to illustrate the breakneck pace of information technology. Today, everyone in Western society takes Internet connectivity for granted and as a necessity, but back in 1995, which is not very recent history, Bill Gates tried, not very successfully, to explain to the public how essential and helpful the Internet is and will be.

Going a bit further back on the timeline, in 1969 the first man landed on the moon with the help of the Apollo Guidance Computer. Back then, the technical marvel had the computing power of today’s ordinary calculator, or roughly six orders of magnitude (million times) weaker than that of today’s ordinary smartphones.

The Library of Alexandria, one of the wonders of the ancient world, held the equivalent of 100,000 books, according to historical estimates. If the plaintext version of the Bible takes up some 4MB, we can calculate that the entire contents of the Library of Alexandria (say 400GB) would fit comfortably on an SSD weighing 79g and available on every corner at a price of around 80 Euros.

The fruit of progress

It’s not particularly hard to see how hugely useful and beneficial today’s advances in digital technology are. Previously, when a person wanted to send a letter to a foreign country, delivery took weeks or months, depending on the distance and the historical period under consideration. In addition, of course, anywhere along the way, a letter could have been lost, lost or mutilated, and the sender might not even have been aware of this eventuality. Today, an email from Australia arrives in Iceland in an order of seconds, and with a reliability approaching 100%.

Previously, all information had to be kept in written form, thus physically taking up a lot of space, consuming tons of paper, plus tons of fuel for delivery. In contrast, today’s databases can both securely store and cleverly deliver unimaginable amounts of information, using a relatively negligible amount of electricity.

If this enumeration of the positives were not enough, computers and the Internet are undeniably saving lives, both directly (the injured can quickly call for help thanks to a mobile phone, the lost can find their way thanks to GPS) and indirectly (doctors, paramedics, firefighters, scientists, etc.), and the Internet is also saving lives, both directly and indirectly (doctors, paramedics, firefighters, scientists, etc.). They can quickly and efficiently share vital information).

The pitfalls of information technology

However, as is usually the case, every advantage, however great, carries with it its own dangers and disadvantages. I want to address the various cons in turn in the articles that follow. I want first to address the dangers of mobile addiction, the social alienation of online communication, the dangers of misinformation or outright deliberate manipulation, and other related topics.

The pitfalls of the digital age are unfortunately many, but all good science fiction teaches us that progress cannot be fought, so the only proper solution is to use new technologies responsibly, and to learn to coexist with them productively.

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