Sunday 28 December 2014

Mandy Johnston: Technology helps us master the world, so why do we find ourselves slaves to it?

Published 20/12/2013 | 02:30

business man  digital tablet laughing silhouette
business man digital tablet laughing silhouette

'Technology . . . the knack of arranging the world so that we don't have to experience it" -- Max Frisch.

The warning about the discovery of cyber-security flaws at 10 hotels in Ireland by Cork-based IT security company Smarttech can hardly come as a shock following the plethora of revelations about personal security issues and computers. Whilst they may not be a shock, they should at least give us pause for thought.

Statistics outlined by Peter Fitzgerald from Google UK at its mothership in Dublin recently stopped me in my fiber-optic tracks. It seems that in terms of engaging the public for business or social initiatives in the world today, if you are not cyber-surfing on a second-by-second basis, you are simply not at the races.

According to Google, there are now 2.4 billion people in the world online. By 2020, this figure is expected to grow to five billion. There are five billion people with mobile phones in the world today. By 2020, that figure is to grow to a staggering 10 billion users.

In terms of mobile phones, 1.5 million new phone accounts are activated globally every day. In Ireland, 84pc of the population is online. By the end of this year, 71pc of our population will have a mobile phone.

The average phone user is said to check their phone 150 times per day.

In economic terms, the digital economy is growing 10 times faster than the Irish economy. Against that backdrop, consider this -- 78pc of SMEs in Ireland are not even trading online. For the nation that is home to global giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, and markets itself as a world leader in R&D, surprisingly few small and medium enterprises feel it is worthwhile to use the portal as an avenue for sales.

Technology is not for everyone but in terms of business and social engagement we all need to get on the super-highway tout suite.

I am not a big fan of technology and I have always believed I am largely untouched by it really. I have a lofty notion that I exist only on the periphery of the world wide web, until now.

As a result of recent revelations into computer malfunctions at supermarkets, failed computer banking systems, and now wide-open wi-fi systems in hotels, I decided to do a little technology audit into my own world to see how deeply embedded I might be.

The results were truly amazing. I have an unbelievable 33 passwords that I know of! The passwords are for everything from email accounts, bank accounts, iTunes, Netflix, door codes, pin numbers, loyalty cards, phone locks, Dropbox, YouTube, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, petrol station cards, supermarkets, Kindle -- you name it, I'm on it, or in it.

The list is endless, and alarmingly this list is ever-growing. I discovered that I have (and actually use) three different email accounts. Almost every single thing I do on a daily basis now requires a password. My passwords are various derivatives of my family, my pets, my friends, significant dates in my life, significant dates in other people's lives, anything that gives me a fighting chance that someday when my mind is occupied with an actual thought I may see beyond the fantastic fog of figures and remember a code or three.

So ridiculous is the world of cyber security that some of my passwords were the word "password". Go figure. There are so many number combinations sloshing around my little brain now, that I am sure I would give a nuclear physicist a run for their money in terms of detail recall.

Of course, we are all consumed with the advances and advantages that the super computers in our pocket can deliver. However, the ultimate aim of such devices was to make us work less and not more and that certainly has not been the result in practice. Every breakthrough in our computer systems has meant more work through ease of accessibility for the user. It is good news for employers, but bad news for original thought and observation.

The ultimate promise of technology is to make us master of a world that we command by the push of a button. However, it can often be a distraction from what is going on around you. In addition, our level of exposure to fraud is on the up. Every new departure now brings with it a niggling concern that we will take that one small technological step too far, and we will wake up one morning and we will have been cyber-burgled during the night. And all you are left with are your passwords and pin numbers. Computer says no.

Irish Independent

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