Three Disruptive Technologies

This is the column I wrote intended for the May 2017 edition of our church newsletter. Given recent events, that issue will be my last. With that in mind, I decided not to include this column. Instead, I offer it up here, on my own personal blog:

For almost two years, I’ve had the privilege of acting as editor for KUFLinks. In that role, I’ve taken the liberty of writing a monthly column under the banner “Communications”, most of which have been on one particular topic, technological change. In this missive, I look at three pivotal changes, that have been quite disruptive on society.

First, when editing KUFLinks, I use a piece of software called “LibreOffice Writer”, which is well-suited to desktop publishing. This program is a member of a large class of software known as “free software”. Although much of this software is available at no cost, the word “free” primarily refers to freedom. That is, you have the freedom, granted by the software license, to do what you want with it. Either without restriction, or with one specific limitation that in practice doesn’t affect the users of the software. (There is fierce debate between these two camps, but the details are not relevant to this discussion.)

Most of you aren’t aware of this, but free software underlays much of what we do today. The most popular web browsers, Chrome and Firefox, are based on free software. Most of the software running the internet is too, from the operating systems, to the web servers, databases, and content management systems. If you use a smart phone or tablet, you’re using products based on free software. Even the WordPress software running the KUF web site is free software.

Second, let’s go back a few centuries to the invention of the printing press in Europe. This of course led to immense change in European society. Of interest to Unitarians is the story of one man, Michael Servetus, who used the printing press to publicize his views. In doing so, he got a lot of people mad at him, especially the Catholic church. Servetus expected a safe haven from the Calvinists in Geneva, but unfortunately, they too were not happy with him. Later, Servetus came to be considered the first Unitarian.

Third, we come back to the present. Many of us still remember a time without the internet. Looking back, it now seems strange that we had to look up information in books, often having to wait until the chance to visit the local library or book store. In many cases, we had to travel some distance to find the right repository of information. When doing research, patience was definitely a virtue.

But of course today, everything is on-line, often just a simple search away from the convenience of our home, either on a desktop computer, or on a mobile device. And if we want to connect with other people with the same interests or values, that too is a simple matter of pressing few buttons.

I can say a whole lot more on each of these three disruptive technologies, but I’ll leave it at this. For now.

Cheers! Hans

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