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Tech terminology gets new definitions, unfortunate outcomes

Our technology language and expectations change. One day a phenomenon that might once have seemed startling becomes so accepted that we scarcely notice what changed. Technology once perceived as innovative and useful, degenerates through actual usage into a worrisome trend that begs for individual and/or parental control – even inviting government interest and possible oversight as in Europe. Here are four technology trends with origins that might not have seemed alarming at the beginning:

Internet of (our) behavior. Gartner introduced this term last year – noting that our use of smartphones is helping, through location tracking and facial recognition, to populate data sets used to to track us. Free software such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and many others make money through advertising. One goal is selling user info they collect to companies interested in patterns of behavior that can help shape marketing campaigns. But the net effect of all of this data collection and tracking is that big tech firms know everything about us. Most people accept the default privacy settings on their devices, but advice is available on how to adjust them.

Smartphone autism. Today, at least 85% of adults in the US have smartphones. Is that a problem? According to the National Autism Association, “individuals with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.” A pediatrician and mother of a child with autism, Ada Fenick, asserts that humans are suffering from an epidemic of what she calls ‘smartphone autism. She noted that in a recent 1000 person survey, respondents checked their phones 262 times per day, including while driving. The result – phone addiction camps and Stanford protests at Apple. The very presence of a phone during a conversation decreases empathy and trust.

Social media. Originally deemed ‘social networking’ when it emerged in 1995 it was a pleasant-sounding concept about the use of technology to connect with other people and groups (think MySpace, Friendster, etc.) Facebook was founded in 2006 – and also seemed like a clever and useful idea. But then the The Social Network became the The Social Dilemma and then The Facebook Files. Now what once was clever and engaging has taken on a malevolent tinge of addiction, especially in its impact on teenagers. Which leads to the alteration of the meaning of:

Data and online privacy. PC Magazine just published a look at Big Tech privacy policies and the actual data collection reality (these firms know practically everything about us). The University of Michigan published a History of (Data) Pr ivacy Timeline. The irony is that as laws emerged, efforts to regulate ramped up, that our data privacy, especially for children, is far less than it was in 1998, when the Children’s Online Privacy Act was launched. Of course, Instagram hadn’t been invented yet; Facebook hadn’t acquired Instagram (a perceived threat), the Facebook whistleblower hadn’t revealed that inappropriate management of teen content in Instagram, and so on.  With so much negative publicity about Facebook and its companies, of course, the time is right, says Mark Zuckerberg, to create a parent company with a new name. He intends to create his own Metaverse -- a virtual reality grand plan (hiring 10,000 workers in Europe to build it!) should nicely obfuscate the mismanagement and lack of damage control of his current universe.

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