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The Impact of Technology: 'It's What Humans Make of It'

 

This fall, the University of Baltimore's Ampersand Institute for Words & Images will host a series of panel discussions entitled "The Impact of Technology."

Edwin Gold


The iPhone has changed the world in incredible ways, yet the way an iPhone looks and feels was almost as important in terms of its success.
-Edwin Gold, director of the Ampersand Institute of Words & Images

These events, free and open to the public, will bring together UB faculty and special guests for some enlightening and empowering discussions about the many ways that technology is shaping modern life.

Edwin Gold, professor in UB's School of Communication Design and director of the Ampersand Institute, spoke recently about the series, and offered his perspective as a design and communication expert on what technology is doing for and to us:

Your first expertise is design, so you see good and bad examples of it everywhere, all the time. The opening panel discussion asks why design matters, so could you give your answer to that question, and say why design and technology seem to be inextricably linked—and perhaps somehow responsible for the "information saturation" that we're living in today?

Gold: The word "design" is often translated into meaning the way things look, but, of course, this is a very limited definition of the term. A more precise definition would include the functionality of an object or plan. There's no doubt that what an iPhone does has changed the world in incredible ways, yet the way an iPhone looks and feels in the hand was almost an equally important contributor to its success.

In your promotional materials for the series, "good and evil" come up as a topic for discussion. You believe, as do so many people, that we run the risk of technology being used in harmful ways. If and when it is, how does a smart, engaged person respond to that nowadays?

Gold: There have been endless examples of technology being used to create mischief or evil ranging from simple hacking to mass murder, but it's extremely unlikely that society will ever be able to divorce itself from both the instruments of technology or the effects of that technology. Even the youngest and poorest people in the world are walking around with the ability to instantly get or steal information, organize crowds, or trigger bombs. Protecting our children from harm and from doing harm is getting to be more and more difficult, thanks to the technology we've placed in their hands.

Some people talk about living a Web-free life, or carving time out of each day to detach from the phone, from Facebook, and everything else. That may promote personal well-being and a better balance between self and the surrounding world, but isn't there relentless pressure to stay "caught up"? Can a person be an informed citizen, a contributing member of democratic society, but also keep technology at arm’s length? If so, how?

Gold: The lure of living a simple life has been around for ages and I imagine that there will always be a few people who will manage somehow to live as virtual hermits, divorced from what they feel is an ugly world. But, in today's world, these people would also be denying themselves the rich experience of participating fully in the world as it really is, warts and all. And that, of course, includes what technology brings us. Technology is, after all, neither good nor evil. It is what human beings make of it.

The lines between marketing and news, or advertising and information, have been made fuzzier by the rise of technology. There is no public or private space now in which people can't be treated like a consumer. In our zeal to know more, access more, and potentially own more, there has been a shift. In your experience, when did that happen—and what's still to come?

Gold: There used to be a time when the endless circle of "desire, satisfaction, dissolution, desire" drove the economy. Today, businesses need to accept the fact that the control of this system no longer lies in the hands of the seller, but technology has now allowed the user to control the process. People can pick and choose when they want to access information as well as instantly compare the prices and quality of any product or service in the world.

What is your most and least favorite developments in technology over the past 10 years? Of the ones you really like, which could you give up if you had to? How would you do that?

Gold: My most favorite is the fact that I have instant access to over 5,000 different fonts with the ability to manipulate these fonts in endless ways. My least favorite is the fact that I no longer get to share this experience with my most trusted typesetter. As far as giving up certain things, I could easily give up all the various social media tools that are poor substitutes for real conversations.