Off Into The Digital Future

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 3.06.04 PMIt feels like just yesterday that I was stalking the newly created BC Class of 2017 Facebook group in summer before my freshman year – looking for a glimpse into the lives of people I’d be surrounded by for the next four years. For those of you in the Class of 2017- if you’re looking for a good laugh, I’d encourage you to take a look back at some of the initial posts on that page. So much has changed since we first walked on campus- and for better or worse, social media has kept an activity log of it all (well not all, thankfully – but a lot of it). With that said, however, the digital/social media landscape has arguably undergone more change than we have during the past four years spent at BC – I’m pretty sure in September of 2013 Uber wasn’t a thing, nobody used Venmo, and Snaptchat might have existed (I cant remember using it?) but it was no where near as pervasive as it is today. This class has been great in that it’s helped me to take a step back and appreciate how fast the world we live in is moving. While this class has gotten me thinking and excited about a wide variety of topics, technologies, and ideas, here are a few highlights:

1) Twitter is awesome

Before taking this class I didn’t have much of an appreciation for Twitter. Post #IS6621, Twitter has taken the crown as my favorite social media platform. I had always wondered what makes 14tweets-with-replies-by-elon-musk-elonmusk-twitter-2015-10-21-18-46-280-character blurbs so special – but the way that we’ve leveraged the platform in class helped me to see the light. 140 characters can pack a big punch. Although definitely there’s plenty of crazy stuff to go around on the platform, I’ve personally found Twitter to be an amazing tool for accessing interesting and relevant content – our weekly “This Week on Twitter” discussions are a strong testament to that. Not only does Twitter provide access to information, but it provides access to people and brands. It’s incredible how active and responsive many of these people/brands are on Twitter- and how they use the platform as an extension of their personality. Twitter (like all social media) is all about what you make of it – but after this class I’d argue there’s more to benefit to be gained from Twitter than any other social media platform.

2) Digital identity

This class has helped instill a new understanding and awareness of my “digital identity.” I had heard plenty of times that “what you put on the Internet is out there forever” but I was ignorant to the reality of the associated implications for both now and the future. I’ve come to think about it this way: a byte is to a dataset as a pixel is to a display –  the more bytes you have, the clearer the picture. Therefore, as time goes on and the volume, variety, anid1d velocity of data continue to increase, our ‘digital portraits’ will become increasingly clear, and in a sense act as portal into our identities. One of the TED Talks that really stuck with me was Jennifer Goldman’s presentation on the “Curly Fry Conundrum” in which she spoke about the extent that even today our digital activity is being used to paint a portrait of who we are as people. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a like on Facebook can be used to predict anything from level of intelligence to the strength of your friendships. As our lives continue to grow more and more digital, we will need to think more about the data we create and how it’s being used. Right now it seems to be somewhat of a free-for-all with brands using any/all data they can get their hands on to gain a competitive edge. I see it as a major privacy issue – and sooner rather than later we will be forced to confront it and will need to start giving consumers more control over how the data they create is being used. I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of data as the oil of the future, and given all the activity we’re seeing right now, I imagine that it will only become more of a reality in years to come.

3) The world is changing – and I’m optimistic

My biggest take away from this class is that the world is changing in faster and more profound ways than ever before. I recently watched an episode of the CNN documentary-style series The Eighties titled “Tech Boom” that covered the early rise of the computer and mobile phone. The conversations being had in the 1980’s regarding the exciting yet unknown future of computers and mobile phones are incredibly similar to the conversations we have today about technologies like autonomous driving, robots, AI, blockchain, etc. In the 80’s, people  had no clue how transformational the phone and computer would be – and I think we are in that same spot with the technologies on the horizon today. We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding history-of-computershow these technologies will shape the world in 10, 20, 30 years and beyond – but given what we’ve seen in the past, there’s no underestimating the degree of change that we will witness. While we’ve discussed some of the skepticism that has naturally formed around the implications of technological advancement, I’m very optimistic about how technology will shape our future. Yes, although robots will replace human jobs, technological advancement will give rise to countless new jobs and entirely new industries that don’t exist today. Think about it – how many data-analytics jobs existed 15 years ago? What excites me most, though, is the notion of augmenting the shortcomings of the human mind with digital capabilities. When you think about it, the human brain is essentially computer that is really, really good at certain types of computations and pattern recognitions. A computer is a different type of calculator that is very good at other types of computations and pattern recognition. So, marrying the respective computational strengths of both the brain and computer—augmenting the shortcomings of the human brain with capabilities of computers/technology– I believe we will be the key to solving many of the major global problems we face today – from poverty to disease. Of course there will have to be some sacrifices made along the way, but I’m optimistic that universal upside will far exceed the downside.

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