Day 6 – Electricity and the Internet

With the passing of Steve Jobs yesterday, the web is filled with remembrances of a pioneer and industry legend. It’s a sad day indeed. But it’s also a good day to look back and consider the history of innovation. And how all the inventions and creations of the last 100 years have impacted us.

As a specific topic to write about: How would you compare the importance of electricity with the invention of the internet? or the cell phone? Can this kind of comparison be made? If you had to lose one of these inventions, which would you keep? And why?

The first, and most obvious, statement to dispense with is this: If there was no electricity, then there would be no internet. There you have it. But I don’t think that is really a valid argument for the merit of one over the other. You could argue metal-work came before electricity, and without it electricity couldn’t have been harnessed. Or even further still: fire made it possible to work with metals, which made it possible to harness electricity, which made it possible to develop the internet, granted with many lesser discoveries among them. All, of which, were necessary to what was to come. Like I said, that “chicken and the egg” stuff is obvious and kind of dulls the potential of this whole comparison, so let’s be done with that and move on.
The biggest affect both electricity and the internet had on the world, I think, comes in the area of productivity. Prior to electricity, one would work until sunset. After that, a person could burn a candle, but it didn’t really help you accomplish nearly the kind of work you could do in the daylight. Then electricity brought the sun’s rays into our homes! Now someone could work all day AND night if it could be done indoors. Shoes could be repaired! Chairs could be built! House-work and laundry could be done and more! The only thing holding someone back was their tired eyelids!
Most likely, you are reading this right now using the magic of the internet. That is what it has done for productivity: information is instantly available! If you need to know anything about anything, all you need to do is look it up online! If you use Wikipedia, several other people have even already compiled the research for you, footnoted and ready to use! I remember hearing how some colleges even have had to change what they hold as important factors in a person’s intelligence because of the Internet. In the past, the ability to memorize and recall facts was a crucial facet of human intelligence. When did Columbus sail the ocean blue, etc. But now, all the planet’s knowledge is literally in the palm of our hands (Thank you, Steve Jobs). It is no longer our ability to know many facts that matters. It’s our ability to find the information we need quickly, to analyze it and form solid opinions, and to use it all in compelling ways that haven’t been done before. I can’t emphasize enough how the systems that Apple, Google, and others have created to make the gathering of information faster, have effected us. It is certainly a brave new world we have inherited. And it just keeps getting bigger and smaller at the same time with every passing day. What an exciting time to live in!
The internet has changed one other aspect of our jobs and how we do them in a way, that many are resistant to, but noetheless is becoming more popular all the time. It has changed where we work. With all the the powerful tools that companies like Apple (by that I really just mean Apple) have produced to utilize that Internet for both information gathering, communicating, and content producing; we can do everything we used to do at the office, at home! Literally taking our desktops home with us. Staying plugged in we can accomplish so much more at home than we used to be able to do in the office a few years ago. Now, some people are really resistant to this notion because it can foster either of two things: workaholism, in which we would work all hours of the day and neglect our families. And Apathy, where we could shirk off work, since we aren’t being watched in an office during the “work-hours”. I think it is brilliant though, because it completely redefines what “work” means into simpler and deliberate terms! Here is what I mean:
When you only work at your office, and you play at home, then you by nature of the predicament define your work by your location, not your actions. “Can you run to the grocery store?” “Sorry I can’t. I am at work.” However, when you can just work anywhere you want, and consequently play anywhere you want, then you define your work by your actions. I know I am at work because I am working. I have my address book open on my phone, my message notes are being filled in on my iPad, and I am answering emails promptly. I am at work, but I am not in the office. Possibly, I am more at work than someone in the office just sitting there, not being productive. The Internet makes this possible in fantastic ways! And one day maybe we all will all come to define whether we are working or not by our action not location. What a brave new world indeed!


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