The Internet of Things
I've worked with information technologies my entire career. Starting with using Apple ][ and Commodore PET computers back in high school in the early 80s, building and repairing the first three generations of IBM (and clone) PCs in the mid 80s, first generation Local Area Networks, campus networks, Internet connectivity (before the general public knew that term), pilot projects to bring the web to homes and businesses, email systems, connecting international companies, building switching/routing networks for DoD installations and ships, etc.
And over those years, I've seen plenty of challenges and unintended consequences along the way; college students dropping out from chat addiction, minors exposed to adult content because of poor access controls, email based harassment, folks fired for possessing pornography at work, and many others I can't talk about.
But none of those problems are as terrible as what I see happening every day on social media. For all of the instant and ubiquitous (thanks to smartphones) connection they bring, making the world a smaller place, they have also played a pivotal role in our current struggles with racial and political divide. I stay out of these online statements and subsequent arguments as much as possible, because I see most of these positions as being taken with half the story in hand. No wonder people immediately chime in with an opposing view - the universe requires balance.
This cultural problem with adopting new communications technologies is not a new one. Plato argued against written word. The printing press, telephone, radio, television, etc., were all massively disruptive when introduced as well. They changed the culture of their time and not always for the better. I see how today's youth explore their "self" using information and isolation to aid in the natural separation from family but sometimes with unhealthy results. You could argue that the "Occupy..." protests, the Arab Spring and many other recent political upheavals (good or bad) can be attributed to (or at least heavily influenced by) the communications we now enjoy. Hacking, phishing, identity theft, malware, etc., are all new problems brought about by connectivity - more unintended consequences of the information age.
But, reflecting on all the disruptive information technologies over the past 3000 years instills in me a hope that like all that have come before it, we will eventually establish generally accepted etiquette for social media and sufficient Internet safeguards that will allow more good than harm to come from their use.
What raises my eyebrow now is "Big Data" and "The Internet of Things". We're experiencing the infancy of these systems-of-systems today. Have you noticed minutes after an Internet Search, an ad for that thing pops up on your browser or web app? That's just the beginning of how information technology will have a much stronger influence on our lives in the years to come. Every moment of your day, every click, every recorded word and image is being crunched by the grid of massively distributed computers that span the globe with the goal of influencing your next decision. It's all being done in the name of "making life easier" which translates to "sell you something." It's powerful beyond our current understanding. I'm not a "Sky is Falling" kind of person, but I'm watching the clouds (pun intended) carefully. I don't wear a tinfoil hat, I don't claim the Government is building Big Brother or SkyNet, but I have walked through some of these massive and distributed new data centers, I see what the information brokers (Google, Microsoft, Amazon,...) can do now and are planning for, and see where this is all headed. For better or worse, our culture is going to be very different in 10 years than it is today.