Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Do Computers Run the World?

At an unveiling for Microsoft's new Visual Studio 2010 in Las Vegas yesterday, Microsoft exec Bob Muglia announced that, "There is no question that the world runs on software. Just look around you. Look at everything, look at all the devices we use, the systems we interact with."

Muglia went on to state that everything was powered by software and that, "developers are the ones who make it happen."

Now I must admit that my first impulse is to write off the entire statement as one, giant collossal backslap. But then I stopped and thought about it for a moment.

Jeez, maybe the guys got a point.

I mean think about your money. Your checking account, even your life savings. Unless you've got it stuffed in the mattress, does it really exist? Or is it just information stored in a mainframe somewhere? My savings is in an Internet bank with no branches, offices or human personnel that I'm aware of. It's just a website I go to occasionally to transfer money in or out. Stop and think about it for a moment. I keep my life savings in a website. It sounds weird, but in the context of the Internet age I guess it's pretty normal.

In the past I've referred to the Internet as the Death Star of medias. The web has affected other medias much in the same way as Darth Vader's enormous space station which comes along and destroys whole planets. Take the print news business. Or the record industry. Next in it's sites would seem to be the television/motion picture industry. However unlike Darth Vader's satellite of destruction, the Internet doesn't use any kind of death ray laser. The Internet's power can be defined in one word: convenience.

The Internet has achieved it's dominance of the media sphere in a relatively short time by making it easier to get what you want. Why buy a newspaper when there's AP online? Why go to a record store when you can get it from iTunes? Why buy it from iTunes when you can download it for free? Why watch TV when you can stream it online? The list goes on and on and on.

Okay so at this point it may be a good idea to remind myself, and everyone reading this, that I do in fact make my living writing for the Internet and have been off and on from it's inception. Far be it for my to bite the hand that feeds me. I love the Internet for the same reason I criticize it. It is convenient. Remember the days when if you wanted to know something you had to go to the library and find a book? Do you? If you're in your early 20s or younger, you probably don't.

The Internet has brought us all closer together. First through email and then through social networking sites. The Internet has truly brought about what Marshall McLuhan may have had in mind when he envisioned a "global village."

However at the same time it has effectively shrunk the world and made it a little less mysterious.

There's no arguing the fact that computers have become central to our lives. They've created new industries and revolutionized existing ones. They've brought distant family members closer together and lead to a greater sense of the world as a whole. However by the same token they've launched jihadist networks, fostered right wing para-military groups, and increased the sense of paranoia and disenfranchisement felt by many. The truth about the global village is that you don't always get along with your neighbors.

So Bob Muglia may have had a pretty astute point. Which is why every now and then it may be a good idea to turn your computer off. Leave Amazon alone and go buy a book from a bookstore. Sit in a cafe' and read it for a couple hours. Or go to the park and sit under a tree, or kick a soccer ball around. Turn your cellphone off for an hour or so if you dare.

Software and computers do effectively run much of the world. But they don't have to run you.

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