Digital revolution or digital regression?

Should the "digital revolution" be termed the "digital regression?" As we become more and more dependent on digital technology, are we controlling this technology or are we allowing the technology to control us?

Jane Brody’s NY Times article "Hooked on Our Smartphones" confirms what our own eyes witness daily: “Young couples out to dinner pull out their smartphones… Shoppers and commuters standing in line, people crossing busy streets, even cyclists and drivers whose eyes are on their phones… People walking down the street with eyes on their phones, bumping into others, tripping over or crashing into obstacles.” She further reflects that Nancy Colier, a New York psychotherapist, in her book, “The Power of Off,” reports that “46 percent of smartphone users now say that their devices are something they ‘couldn’t live without.’”

In "Stress Mess: 3 in 5 Millennials Say Life More Stressful Now Than Ever Before," Ben Renner tells us that from having their smart phone die to slow WiFi; from broken smart phone screens to “getting zero likes on social media,” increasing numbers of people find more stress from difficulties with their window to the digital world than other stressors.

ADVERTISEMENT

The movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” introduced the famous rogue computer named HAL which stated “No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.” HAL further states: "I don't want to insist on it, Dave, but I am incapable of making an error." Are we also deferring our decisions and our control to the digital revolution, to the digital data analysis that we find “foolproof and incapable of error?”

WAZE is a digital application used by commuters to identify traffic problems and provide a route that allows the commuter to avoid congestion. However, Jefferson Graham and Brett Molina tell us in USA Today that during the 2017 fires in California people blindly followed Waze as it routed them to the roads with the least traffic — and right into the fire areas.

Mark Faram writing for the Navy Times tells us that in 2003 the U.S. Navy chose to close the Surface Warfare Officer’s School (SWOS) where new officers learned basic ship handling. As a cost saving mechanism they instead issued the new officers 21 CDs containing a series of Computer Based Training in seamanship. Faram asks if this lack of practical training in seamanship may have resulted in the death of 17 sailors in the summer of 2017.

The brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 was grounded by most of the countries in the world after two crashes with similar takeoff profiles called into question the safety of the aircraft. Erin Corbett writing for Fortune Magazine tells us that Boeing was quick to announce that they had developed a “software upgrade” strongly suggesting — as many suspected — a digital origin for the two crashes.

Yes, the "digital revolution" as some call it can help in many ways to enhance our everyday lives. But shouldn’t it be used as an assistant, to complement rational thought, to enhance making decisions rather than a replacement? Shouldn’t digital technology be applied as appropriate rather than blindly followed — with humans controlling it, rather than the other way around?

John M. DeMaggio is a retired Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General. He is also a retired Captain in the U.S. Navy, where he served in Naval Intelligence. The above is the opinion of the author and is not meant to reflect the opinion of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Government.