Beware of unintended side-effects

The technology of our era is allowing ideas to spread around the globe at incredible speeds. Good ideas, bad ideas, truths and lies spread like viruses on steroids, capable of leaping oceans in milliseconds and infecting millions if not billions of people simultaneously.

Take the 2006 FIFA World Cup, for instance. The 2006 tournament was aired in a total of 43,600 broadcasts across 214 countries and territories, generating a total of 73, 072 hours of coverage. If the all of the coverage was shown on one channel, it would take over eight years to broadcast non-stop.

The tournament had a cumulative television audience of 26.29 billion…26.29 billion people! There are close to 6.7 billion people on earth today and the potential of reaching a large majority of them through various technological tools is unprecedented.

One of the interesting and potentially unintended side-effects of this unprecedented ease of communication is the spread of ideas and culture into societies that are not prepared ethically, socially, intellectually or otherwise to absorb them on a controlled basis.

We can better understand how this works by turning back the clock November 15, 1532. One hundred sixty-eight conquistadors arrived in the holy city, Cajamarca, in the heart of the Incan Empire. Within 24 hours they subdued the 80,000 Incan troops that awaited their arrival and had the Incan Emperor in chains.

Pizarro and his small band of men killed 7,000 Incan warriors at Cajamarca but even more shocking is the fact that 95% of the Incan population died within one generation of the conquest. The cause? Likely germs that resulted from thousands of years of animal domestication. Diseases likely smallpox, against which the Incan population had no immunity for lack of any previous exposure.

So it is with bits of infectious data that dart around the world with the help of cables and satellites. New ideas are introduced into old cultures no a daily basis and I have to wonder if they are adequately prepared to handle what comes with them.

I remember watching the early effects of glasnost in the USSR, one of which was the Communist Party’s loss of control over the media. The Soviet Union appeared to go through a compressed version of what took decades to unfold in the USA. The sexual revolution that took place over some fifteen years in the 60s and early 70s in the USA happened not gradually but explosively in the USSR, sparking dramatic and unsettling changes in social norms that have yet to return to a point of balance.

My concern this morning is to call for the responsible proliferation of technology and ideas. The course of human history shows that periods of relative stability in human affairs are punctuated by turmoil and revolution. The proliferation of technology will either produce more stability or provoke more instability. Technology is neutral, but how it is used determines whether it is a constructive force or a destructive one in our world.

The way you use technology in your life will decide in large measure whether your influence on this precious world is constructive or destructive.

The choice is yours.

7 thoughts on “Beware of unintended side-effects

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Beware of unintended side-effects « Gregg Hake's Blog --

  2. Kolya

    Very interesting look at the impact of technology and information. The WSJ had a recent article about Google agonizing about privacy vs. profit. The founders of Google (whose corp. motto has been, “don’t be evil”) have believed in protecting their audience, however they are finding it impossible to compete with other less ethical rivals.

    Personal data and the ability to target audiences (through keywords in email, monitoring browsing history, etc) is turning into THE most valuable commodity.

    I’m sure the impact of less online privacy, including social media sites, such as Facebook (which has an extensive amount of personal information) will have interesting repercussions in the future as well.


  3. Colin

    Technology is an influence-multiplier. The ability to influence many combined with a certain amount of anonymity (real or perceived), unfortunately allows people to feel like they can be rude without repercussions. Of course there are always repercussions, whether you see them or not. Does anyone think that if the hate level of the human race goes up that nothing bad will come of it? I hope that kindness and compassion become the rule, regardless of anonymity, but people would have to have that in their lives to begin with. I do know that one person, giving a consistent, hypocrisy free example, can change the world, and I hope that technology allows those types of people to spread their message faster than ever before. Thanks!


  4. Marianne

    Really, REALLY important points you are bringing up. There is a mixed bag of things out there that we can give ourselves to or impose on others without thinking. The ability to be a consciously creative influence on earth is a terrible thing to waste!!


  5. Kai Newell

    I think this universally applies to children, who are exposed to increasingly indigestible and unsafe elements through the internet, through lower standards of programming, through the lack of controls in place to protect them. I remember my mother saying to me when I was a curious teen that “you can always look but you can never unlook.” Parents and childcare providers have to be the eyes and ears for children. Your point to examine this for ourselves is also well taken. Why would I want to expose myself to something that isn’t timely, helpful or can’t be ‘undone’. We definitely have a choice!


  6. Joshua

    I appreciate your holistic perspective.
    We do each enjoy a tremendous privilege in this day and age with the technology which is at hand, with that privilege come’s a great responsibility. Utilizing the tools we have at our disposal to inspire rapid creative changes, or to be better put “Balancing Broadcasts”
    …. rather than the proliferation of more uncertainty, instability, and drama drama drama. Why not “Good news”!
    I choose to take the highroad on this one.


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