published Friday, February 11th, 2011

Jenkins: Pick the lesser of evils in technology


by Donnie Jenkins

There is a famous, single-frame cartoon in several college psychology books that came to mind recently and gave rise to this column. The cartoon is titled "Frustration" and shows a sad-faced man sitting in a chair in a small room between two doors. One door is labeled "Do Not Enter" and the other one is labeled "Do Not Exit." This drawing perfectly describes a double-bind, as the man is trapped either way he goes.

The classic double-bind is a situation we are all familiar with by an early age. The technical world we inhabit is not immune to this issue. Let's take a look at a few double-binds we encounter in our tech lives:

* Social sharing vs. privacy. As Facebook becomes more dominant in the daily lives of most of us, it becomes essential to balance these two. The empowering aspect of Facebook is the sharing of more and more personal photos and information, yet this comes at the price of revealing more and more useful information to businesses who want to market to us.

Facebook has been quick to implement new features to benefit its business partners and some would even call them reckless in this regard. One writer went so far as to say that they play a "cat and mouse game" with users by constantly eroding privacy and then announcing a "fix" that users can use to address the change. Be that as it may, solve this double-bind by staying constantly aware of changes and by all means keep your privacy settings current.

* Buy now or wait? Ever since the earliest days of personal computers the question has been: If I buy this now, will it soon be obsolete?

As cell phones and tablets move into the mainstream, this becomes a more complicated problem, primarily because there are so many devices from which to choose and because new ones with seductive features and prices appear so often.

Currently this is being manifested by the upcoming release of several tablets and cell phones with the newer and faster 4G or LTE services.

The best cure for this double-bind will sound familiar to regular readers: research and read relentlessly, wait as long as possible to buy and purchase only when you can choose a device that will suit your needs for at least a year, two if possible. No device that is useful can be considered obsolete.

* Website vs. apps. Now here's a new and troubling double-bind. As cell phones and tablets become more powerful, the app or application becomes more important.

The Apple iPhone and later the iPad gave rise to this trend. The simplicity of downloading an app and having it install itself is very appealing and popular. Apple has even announced that the next version of the Mac operating system will be totally redesigned with apps in mind. Other device platforms such as Google's popular Android system have begun to adopt this approach while still providing great web access.

The double-bind here is that as you increase the use of only apps, you decrease open access and choice. Apple is locking down its app system, and many consider its rules concerning web access via apps to be restrictive and controlling.

If the day ever comes when you can access programs and data only via an app, we're in trouble. Fortunately there are several other platforms that emphasize open access, and this will probably become more common as these platforms evolve.

E-mail Donnie Jenkins at donniejenkins@yahoo.com.

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