We have a set of novelty glasses in our house on which are etched the Italian words “Ottimista” and “Pessimista”; the glasses are split across the middle by a line, with the first above the line, the second below it. These are truly “glass half-full” glasses.
It turns out that whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about communication and information technology might also describe you in another way. A recent article in the New York Times talks about how new information technologies are viewed over time, from writing itself to the printing press to the handheld calculator to Twitter. In the article, futurist Paul Saffo (why do futurists always have cool names?) is quoted as saying he can divide the technology world into two kinds of people: engineers and natural scientists.
. . . the world outlook of the engineer is by nature optimistic. Every problem can be solved if you have the right tools and enough time and you pose the correct questions. Other people, who can be just as scientific, see the natural order of the world in terms of entropy, decline and death.
(“There are two kinds of people in this world — those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” — Robert Benchley)
The Times article does a nice job of illustrating how technologies save time and free our minds, but also fill the newly acquired time with new distractions and amusements. Armed with cell phones, email devices, and Google, we push aside mundane activities and fill the “found” time with entertainment and diversions. We are human. We’re a little nuts.
It would be interesting to profile our audiences as technophiles or technophobes, as optimists or pessimists, as engineers or natural scientists. I wonder if a meta-analysis of adoption rates between domains (IEEE comparing uptake of technologies with FASEB, for instance), would reveal differences.
Or are these people just spouting optimism?