Friday, July 15, 2011

The New Normal

The word 'technology' used to be more broadly understood. Trains, trucks, and trams belong to the transportation technology. Then there is the household technologies like kitchen appliances, lawnmowers, lighting, tools used in a typical household.  The electricity we get comes from a complex chain of power engineering technologies. The water we get flows from a network of plumbing lines and water purification technologies. Yet, the word technology is increasingly perceived as being reserved for information technologies like the computer, the cell phones, and of course the ever popular social network.

I visited my kid's High School Open House not too long ago. The greeters, mostly students themselves, very quickly list down the different departments, offices, and exhibits available in the school. There is the 'science,' the 'arts,', the 'accounting,' and so on. Invariably, one of the highlights is the 'technology' department. Like many, I walk briskly to the 'technology' department located at a lower floor. As I walk, in, I tried to lower my expectations by taking any "Star-Trek / Tron Legacy" mindset a few notches lower. In my mind, I visualize simple monitors instead of sophisticated wall-like touch screens seen in Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise. Instead of high-tech wireless gadgets, maybe there is one or two WiFi enabled computers. Instead of state of the art glitzy LCD projectors, perhaps, a humble WhiteBoard can suffice. 

Imagine my surprise to see people doing metalwork and woodwork. Students carry metal plates, and some sawing wood. Where's the 'technology?'  This one scene pits the old normal in the school, with the new normal in the rest of the world.

Technology is a fast changing animal. It grows rapidly. I have heard my contemporaries in the computer industry telling me that the moment the latest computer flows out of the production floor, it is already obsolete. Like the school 'technology' room, that I think is the 'old normal.' Here is a list of technological devices I call old and new normal.

1. Desktop Computer Sleek Notebooks/Tablets
2. Cell Phones with number pads Cellphones with touch pads
3. Wired Wireless
4. Email Social Media
5. Partly ON devices Always ON devices
6. Binary Digital
7. Printed Books eBooks
8. Technology as All kinds of Engineering Technology as Computing Devices

The last point is the one I have been increasingly mindful about. Mention technology to any kid, and he will think digital, computers, iPhones, social media networking and so on. The new normal for technology is essentially 'information technology.' For any marketers to sell anything technological, they have to consider this new normal in terms of mindset. Otherwise, like my experience in the high school, it makes one feel that the school is outdated and out of touch with what is going on in the rest of the world.

Having said that, we cannot be too narrow minded about it. 'Technology' is more than computer technologies. Just this week, I was asked to give a short writeup on how technology affects relationships. A few days later, I was asked if I could replace the word 'technology' with the words 'social media.' Wow, that is the new normal. Social media is certainly taking a life of its own. Will the new normal in the use of the word 'technology' be 'social media?' We wait to see.

As stewards of this earth, we should not allow ourselves to be swayed by the tides of things newest and the greatest. All technologies are technologies. They have a significant role to play when they were launched. Each occupies an important milestone for the advancement of new ideas and innovations. While we look forward to new normals each time, let us also not de-emphasize the roles of the old normals. I suggest three ways in which to 'normalize' our infatuation with the new, and a disdain for the old.

  1. Old Roots: No new devices are developed from a vacuum. They are improved versions of things old. Remember that what we have now, comes from the learning of the past
  2. New Ideas as Uncovered Grounds: Again, new ideas are simply new ground not covered by the past. Technological advancement comes when old grounds are covered, to reveal newer grounds yet to be discovered. In other words, each new step is only possible after a previous old step.
  3. Give Thanks: Finally, let us appreciate the advancement and the technologies we have. Not everything new is great. Not everything old is outdated. Both are essential. 

One more thing. As long as we learn to preserve a good sense of old and new normals in technology, we will be less prone to damage the environment by throwing away the old working devices, and mindlessly buy new stuff we do not really need.

Maybe, our new normal ought not to be the latest and the greatest technologies. Our new normal for all time, need to be increasing wisdom. Period.


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