By Rachel Schwartz
The first night I had my iPhone 4S, I asked Siri, the new program that responds to vocal commands, what the weather for the next day would be. “What did you say?” my mother called to me from down the hall. “I was talking to Siri,” I replied.
My exchange with Siri and my mom made me question the role of technology in my life. I appreciate the amazing advances in industrial, medical and personal technology that innovators like Apple founder Steve Jobs have made in recent years. However, I wonder how we can know to stop advancing before it is too late.
The atom bomb may be an extreme example, but the fact that its creators regretted discovering its technology illustrates how hard it is to predict the consequences of our actions.
The International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry estimates that in June 2011, the percentage of active cell phone per U.S. inhabitant was 102.4 percent, compared to just 14 percent per inhabitant in June 2001. This change, which affected such a large number of people so greatly and occurred so abruptly, rivals the transformation of society in the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century.
We are living through an electronic revolution, and I am a part of it.
Apparently, students have been so overwhelmed with this revolution that they cannot be trusted to disconnect from electronics even during classes. Periodic rings or vibrations from texts punctuate lectures and teachers feel the need to plaster the walls of the girls’ bathroom in Seaver with posters that read “NO CELL PHONES” in bright red to prevent students from using a supposed bathroom break as a texting break.
The frenzy over the iPhone 4S began before it was even released. I would hear kids in the hallway talking about all of its new features and when they could get their hands on this latest innovation.
Now, more than ever, I see iPhones everywhere at school. In my English class, we are required to leave our cell phones in a basket at the front of the room. The basket is always brimming with the newest models of personal electronics.
Everyone who has an iPhone seems to be obsessed with trying to elicit human-like responses from Siri, and I am no exception. I tried asking my iPhone if it loved me and it replied, “I respect you.” A machine is responding to emotional statements and casual questions in the vernacular. There is no code that acts as a translator between human speech and electrical transmission. Human and machine can communicate directly.
I have enjoyed getting to know my iPhone and Siri, but my excitement has been tempered with a bit of apprehension. Whenever Siri gives me a response that sounds like a human is talking to me, I cannot help but feel that a horror movie is waiting to happen. “Attack of the iPhone” might be a stretch, but the ubiquity of personal electronics today is astonishing when compared with its minimal presence just 10 years ago.
Technology makes my life infinitely more convenient, and I witness the way it is changing lives every day. Such observations have made me realize how lucky I am to be able to use complex devices that make communication so simple.
The momentous wave of innovation of my generation shapes our lives today and is forming our futures.
We will live very different lives than our parents have.