When we started this semester and the guidelines to the class were given to us, I didn’t know what to expect. At first, I questioned my own abilities. While I felt relatively comfortable with my own ability to navigate technology and social media, I was still on the older side of being a millennial, where I didn’t grow up in a world where the Internet and smartphones were ubiquitous. My first exposure to the Internet (and what could be considered the early iterations of social media) was AOL. Not AOL Instant Messenger, which stayed popular for far longer, but actual AOL. You’d get an AOL installation CD in the mail, install AOL on your computer, then connect to AOL using a dial-up modem. That’s how you got onto the Internet in the mid to late 90’s.
After connecting to AOL, you’d go through their portal to access various parts of the Internet. You could open a web browser, check your e-mail (through the AOL client), access AOL forums/chat rooms (I rather enjoyed chatting with random people when I was 13, which is retrospect probably wasn’t super safe or smart). For more context on what the AOL experience looked like, please see here. It’s actually quite astonishing how far we’ve come. But I digress.
So, I was confident that I had some experiences with technology that most others in our class hadn’t, but how would that help me keep up when my classmates were likely far ahead of me in awareness of where social media was today? I hadn’t used Twitter prior to this class, had virtually no understanding of what Snapchat was, and hadn’t even posted on Facebook for several months. Needless to say, I think I started off slow in our class.
However, what ended up happening once I began to get in the groove of interacting on Twitter, reading about the various interesting topics that we all blogged about, and bringing all of that information to the classroom to discussion was that I felt like I was holding my own pretty well. What I found was that many of the topics that came up were less about knowing in-depth about the technology and moreso about taking a reasonable understanding of the technology and using that to gain a better understanding of some of the real world implications of that technology. A good example of this would be blockchain. I still don’t fully understand much of the tech behind blockchain (like most of the class, I’m guessing), but I do have work experience in an industry that will likely be disrupted by blockchain: finance. More specifically, I worked in trading operations on Wall Street for a few years and understand how convoluted and silly the trade settlement and trading processes are. The type of ubiquitous ledger that blockchain can provide to asset management firms and investment banks has the potential to eliminate many, many jobs.
More importantly, I’ve begun to view my own job and career through what we’ve learned in class. Through learning about the ways in which other companies are using technology to improve various aspects of their businesses, I realize the ways that Boston College still has room for improvement. The in-class presentation from the Boston College social media team was a great example of the difference embracing new forms of technology can make. But, when reconciling the efforts of the BC social media team with the ways in which areas in which Boston College lags technologically is sobering. Class registration at BC is a good example of this, where almost every student has had some negative experiences dealing with BC’s UIS system that is literally from the 1990’s. Seeing these two diametrically opposite ways in which my employer uses technology can be both heartening and frustrating. However, having that type of perspective can only help me in the future.
The other aspects of the changing digital landscape that this class has exposed me to is likely to help prepare me for a future that may look radically different from where we are today. Learning about artificial intelligence has helped me understand that I’ll have to learn new skills for jobs and industries that won’t become obsolete when AI makes the necessary advances. Having an understanding about virality the ways in which it’s possible that almost anything I do on social media or even in my daily life can affect me has made me more cautious about my own interactions at work and in my own personal life. Even having a rudimentary understanding of blockchain has helped me envision the potential societal impacts that we’ll see years down the road.
So where do we go from here? In my first blog post, I wrote “My hope is that in the future I’ll be able to directly use what we learn in class to contextualize what is happening in the world and to further my career in some respect.” With what I’ve learned and taken from the class the past three months, I’m confident that I’m going to do just that.