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The hidden dark side of today's hottest tech trends

Peter Wayner | June 14, 2013
New technologies and new IT strategies are here to solve all your problems — except the ones they create

The hidden dark side of social media
Remember when friends were people you actually liked to visit, maybe go on an adventure with or a run or a trip to a museum? Now the word has morphed into something very different from what Carole King meant she wrote "You've Got a Friend." The percentage that will come running is vanishingly small.

Too many of the wonderful stories of reconnecting with lost chums are followed by the emptiness that comes when people realize why the friendship faded before. Too few of the status updates truly mingle our souls like a well-crafted letter once did.

The systems encourage noise, amplify emotions, nurture our worst mob behavior, and encourage endless begging for affirmation. The endless chatter often seems like a proof of William Yeats' claim that "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Is it any wonder that the newest systems want to differentiate themselves by limiting contact and reducing the interaction between people?

Besides performing brand damage control on the external networks or mining employee networks for sales leads, do you really want your employees bringing that mentality to collaborative projects re-engineered to make the most of the "promise" of a shiny, new enterprise social networking platform?

The hidden dark side of Bitcoin
It's a stateless wonder that's going to save us from fiat currency by curbing the ability of governments (or really anyone) from printing their way out of trouble. Hard-money devotees and anyone sweating after the collapse of Cyprus are enamored with it.

But even if the math is sound, there are legitimate questions about whether all that abstraction is really what people want or need. Bits are even more fragile than paper. It's one thing to lose a hard disk with your kid's homework, and it's another to lose your life savings in Bitcoins. Viruses, disk crashes, hackers, and everything else that can go wrong with a computer are even worse when we entrust our nest eggs to them. Yes, most banks are essentially databases with a network of branches, but the people in the network are heavily regulated and used to insuring against fragility and error.

If these are solved with backups and better hacking protection, there's still the question about how much a Bitcoin is worth. There's no intrinsic value, and the marketplace may fluctuate much more than dollars or gold. It's just defined by the marketplace. While the U.S. dollar is theoretically the same, the reserve banking system injects a fair amount of stability. Political control actually matters.

The biggest problem, though, may be the newness. We may find ways to deal with the occasional anonymity and the mathematics, but all of that experimentation will take time. People may not be ready to jump in with both feet. As Ron Paul, the former Congressman from Texas with a history of distrusting central authority said, "If I can't put it in my pocket, I have problems with it."


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