Tech from Heaven, part 2

I was asked a few good questions by a commenter on my last post, and I’d like to respond.

“I am curious to know how technology has helped you personally foster stronger relationships, greater intelligence, and enhanced your decisions.”

Stronger relationships:
Facebook, Twitter, and email have all played their part in my life, helping me stay connected with dear friends and family, even when we’re physically apart (esp. Argentine friends, whom I met on my LDS mission). These asynchronous communication tools help me stay in touch, even when our schedules don’t coincide.

Intelligence and enhanced decision making:
I look things up on Google and Wikipedia all the time. Most of these things are trivial, and wouldn’t truly fall under the category of “enlightenment”, but the Internet is a gold mine of valuable information, and I’ve used it for banking, buying schoolbooks, and even downloading sheet music for my ward choir. (http://www.defordmusic.com/ makes some music freely available for church purposes like this)

However, I fully support the common Internet philosophy of “post anything, trust nothing”. Time for a bit of cautionary advice. The Internet is not a magic question-answering service. When making important decisions, don’t use the Internet to just get answers. Use the Internet to get and confirm answers. Wikipedia is great because it often provides sources for its information. Use them. Google for more sources; don’t trust just one. Also consider using aides like browser-addon Web of Trust. Be wise. What can I say more?

More Internet- and church-related thoughts coming soon. Stay tuned!

Technology from heaven

With all of the nasty things that can be done with technology these days—such as viewing pornography, spreading lies, stealing identities, and so forth—it sometimes seems that the devil himself invented the Internet. But I believe quite the contrary: the recent technological explosion has been divinely inspired, and has served the Lord’s purposes in many respects. Simulations and other computer programs can better prepare doctors to do their job; psychologists, biologists, and countless professions can stay current on the latest discoveries and share new information with others, limited only by the speed of light. People can so easily stay in touch over long distances via Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, email, and more. In general, new technologies have enabled us to access vast amounts of information. “The glory of God is intelligence”; I feel that soon enough the human race will use this technology to collectively become enlightened, embrace truth, and ultimately fulfill God’s designs.

Wikipedia: the MMORPG for smart people?

MMORPGs offer people the chance of living a fantasy, where the rules of success are different than those of the real world, and yet you never “win” the game. Wikipedia is no different: scholars, rednecks, and essentially anyone with an Internet connection can view and edit Wikipedia. There is no accepted final draft, ready for publication. The rules of publishing on Wikipedia are definitely different than those of publishing through scholarly journals. Would-be scholars with half-earned degrees can find the potential for “addiction” at Wikipedia, like other MMORPGs. If you are checking your Wikipedia watchlist several times a day, and sacrificing other pursuits in order to spend more time working on Wikipedia, you should consider professional help.

Recycling

As a kid, I was taught to reduce, reuse, recycle! Educational TV shows taught me that this was the way to save the planet. Why, then, do we have copyright laws restricting the reuse and recycling of ideas? Admittedly, excessive programming code doesn’t threaten the koala bears or the ozone layer. But it does slow us down. I imagine a Utopian society where knowledge is not property, a society where people can do good without worrying about infringement of copyright law, a society where respect and reputation are the keys to success. Open source projects like Firefox, Linux, and Drupal have shown us that a sharing, cooperative community can produce incredible results. Now that the Internet has enabled communication in so many ways, open source is the way of the future.

Right to copy

In simpler times, people would trade goods for other goods. You sew the shirts, I’ll milk the cows, then I’ll trade you milk for shirts. To facilitate more complex transfers, people use money. The amount of money you have represents the amount of service and goods you provide to the community, and therefore the amount that you deserve to take from the communal stash. Then something went terribly wrong: Intellectual property. You can’t copy my idea without my permission, because thinking up that idea is a service that I provided to the community. But ideas aren’t the same as goods. They are not limited resources; taking ideas from the communal stash does not deplete it. Copyrights, patents, and trademarks are broken legislature. We need to fix this situation. (The xkcd solution isn’t ideal.)

Better than the other brand

Sadly, many advertisements have stooped to the level of simply saying, “Hey, I’m better than the other brand!” Motorola’s new smartphone, the Droid, has defined itself in this new ad simply by noting those features which the iPhone does not have. Apple, of course, has several ads like this one that explain nothing about the Mac, but rather, subtly attack Windows, implying that the Mac is somehow better. I shiver as I realize that I actually enjoy these worthless ads. They’re fun. They’re cute. They’re misleading. If a product can’t sell by simply explaining its own virtues and naturally outshining the competition, then it probably isn’t much better than the other brand.

Don’t women like computer science?

In our modern age, women and men have virtually the same opportunity to learn math, physics, computer science, or anything they want. So why do women represent such a small fraction of computer scientists? Tradition. Social expectations. The primary role of a woman in society is to care for children, which is completely unrelated to computer science. Are they less capable of learning computer science? No. Should women be discouraged from studying whatever they want? No. Should women be encouraged to study subjects that currently attract only a few female students? Perhaps. Would it make a difference? Little, if any. Do any women even like computer science? I don’t know; ask them. I would guess that girls like computer science in the same way boys like shopping for clothes: some love it, some like it, but in general, society has not prescribed that attribute to that gender role. Computer scientists alone cannot increase the percentage of female computer scientists. It would require a change in our entire society.

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