Personal Environment Awareness and Responsibility With Modern Devices

Recently, a number of higher profile stories have made their way around the media world. Some stories are more local while other stories make national news outlets. Plus, quite literally, as I am typing this introduction to the blog posting, a user came up to me with a funky spyware application that had mysteriously made it onto her machine and it was not allowing her to start applications.

There is no question that computing devices are converging in almost every aspect of our lives. What was once a fairly straight forward object is now “Internet Enabled” and “Smart”. While phones seem like a logical extensions of the “smart” devices, we are seeing more and more “smart” devices. Smart refrigerators that tell us when we are running low on milk or cheese. GPS enabled vehicles. Even consumer level devices that ‘tweet’ when your plants need some human assistance (watering, no sun, etc…).

While these devices seem to be kitschy right now, they are becoming more and more common in our environment.

How many stories have popped up over the past year regarding a driver driving off the beaten path because their GPS device told them to? Countless. “My GPS told me I could go that way…” Never mind the lack of paved roads and the lack of traffic. All too often, this happens during the winter months, when the mountain passes and forest service roads are snowed in.

You see… these devices are enabling people to stop using their common sense and, instead, rely upon the infallible “smart” devices that are everywhere. The onus on making any kind of decision is being passed off onto “smart” devices that are really stupid. We, as humans, have possession of the most powerful computing devices ever created… our brains. While it may seem very obvious, we should be making decisions based on information provided to us. Perhaps it is from the Internet, talking to a friend, or just plain logic.

For example, a horrible story was released last week in our local news outlets. A girl from a high school was walking home from school when she was tragically hit by a freight train and killed. The story details that the girl was wearing her iPod and listening to music while crossing the tracks… and spent more time discussing how the train company was ensuring that the train blew the horns, hit the breaks, and did everything possible to stop from hitting the girl. In reality, the onus should have been on the girl to pay attention to her environment and notice a big train coming down the tracks, the vibration of the ground caused by the impending train, and the horn blasting. The investigators believe that this was accidental and could have been avoided.

The girl was using the iPod to listen to music when, in fact, there were other things going on around her that were more important and fairly obvious. This is not a problem that Apple needs to address with their products. Rather, it is the responsibility of the user to use them in a fashion that is responsible for their every day lives.

We are allowing new devices to interfere with what should be normal, day-to-day operations. We are relying upon these devices to make decisions for us and augment (or replace) what we perceive to be reality. GPS devices have no way to know when a road is shutdown due to an accident, refrigerators have no way to know that we have milk, but it has expired, and the plant-tweet-devices are just plain ridiculous.

I believe that these devices are actually tools that we can use to enhance our lives and our brains. We should be able to use these devices to learn more about our environment and allow us to act smarter, and not pass on the decision making to the devices.

  • GPS: learn about where you are going. Look for alternate routes ahead of time. Use Google Maps, Thomas Guide, or any other location utilities to show where you are trying to get to. Short cuts are usually bad ideas… otherwise, they would be the regular path. If you end up visiting the same area often, you will know more about the area and will be better off. Using GPS in your hometown is an awful idea.
  • Refrigerator: Only rely on the temperature and the light being on/off from any refrigerator information devices. Plus, use your eyes and brain to figure out if you need anything else.
  • Plant-Tweet device: Botany is an amazing activity. Understanding the needs of your plants is an important skill, especially if you wish to keep them alive. Otherwise, water them every day, get Cacti, or get a service to maintain them for you.

When it comes down to it, WE are responsible for our own lives… not our devices.

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