I don’t know about you but one of my Father Christmas delivered presents got me rather philosophical. Not in a “is everything driven by consumerism?” or “should we really have a national holiday based on a Christian appropriation of a pagan festival?” kind of way though. The thing that sprung into my mind was about what our expectations are in regards to the gadgets we get and how that shapes our futures.
Having worked in IT for many years I’ve seen first hand the kind of factionalisation that springs up around specific technologies. Many of them can be quite extreme; I once worked with a someone who thought anyone who used a Windows PC was worse than a murderer, just to give you an example! I’ve always tried to avoid that kind of tribalisation but I’m finding myself having an increasing problem with the “it just works” approach to technology. The simple fact of the matter is that “it just works” divorces you from the realities of how it gets to “just work” in the first place and I think that creates a whole ranges of problems for us in the future.
The Christmas present that got me thinking was this:
You can read all about the Raspberry Pi and it’s raison d’etre on it’s own site. I’d recommend you do; they are an interesting bunch driving the project!
Do you know what the best thing about the Raspberry Pi is? It doesn’t just work. In fact I had to do some basic fiddling with it in order to get it to start. But after getting it up and running, I had learned something I didn’t know before. My next project is going to be using it to capture a timelapse video out of my patio doors. After that I’m going to dust off my programming skills and learn Python properly. This is not some inner geek in me trying to get out (although, mea culpa, I am a geek) but rather a fundamental desire to know how things work. It is that desire that I believe we all should have and especially in regards to technology. I also believe that “it just works” technology serves to suppress that desire and leads us to make ill-informed choices. Users of Snapchat think on …
The good news is that if you are at University or are intending to go then you already have that desire to know. All I am suggesting is that you should take the time to learn something else about the world around you and specifically about how the technology around you works. History and indeed the humanities are not technologically ambivalent disciplines anymore and claiming that “it’s not my discipline” is not really good enough. You may increasingly hear the buzz words “digital humanities”around the School although it is not a well defined term at the moment.
So my message for 2014 is this; you need to have at least a basic understanding of the technologies you might use in order to use them. To be clear I am not suggesting you need to be the next Turing, Torvalds or Zuckerberg but I believe it is indefensible if the technology of your phone, computer or web application of choice are akin to magic to you.
Let me know what you find out!