Happy Thanksgiving! As you’ve read and heard all too often this week, and as you know well even without the constant mantra, it is a time to give thanks. I am so very grateful for many people, countless experiences, whatever skills and abilities I have, and constant opportunities. It’s really too much to take in without giving short shrift to the lion’s share of life. Yet I ponder on it and try to understand.
Because of the work that I do in information security, computer crimes, and privacy issues, the area that comes quickly to mind among so much to be thankful for is technology, itself. I spend a great deal of time every week researching and writing about these topics for you, another item on the long list of what I’m appreciating actively this week. As a reader of this column you are encouraged to do more than merely consume my ramblings. I call you to duty time and again to be vigilant and diligent, to learn and read more, to ask questions, and to care about your own devices.
You, me, and these innumerable things that we operate are technology manifested. Since time immemorial when humans began being part of it, time and space that is, we’ve coalesced into community. A community acts much like technology. Diverse backgrounds, objectives, ages, and interests make for a good start on building a community. Various operating systems, application programs, user acumen, and problem-solving devices make up our technology.
When you’re part of a community that includes someone who’s been hurt, the whole of the group moves into gear to help. At least, that’s one piece of the community’s response. Someone else may point and laugh at the injured member. Others ignore them. But, as a community, there’s enough caring and careful members to hold up the one who’d been lamed. They, in turn, carry forward their duty of service, hopefully, and we continuously move and shift in these roles ultimately keeping healthy the community.
When I challenge you to read this column, which oftentimes includes novel technologies that are unfamiliar to you, you must not only have the zeal to understand the information, but I frequently end with the charge to go do something. Go ask your civic leaders about how they’re protecting your private information. Go talk with your children and understand how they’re leveraging technology. Take time out of your busy week to update passwords. All of these things put the burden on you. You see, though, that you are part of this interwoven technology that, despite its different spelling and different commonly understood meaning, is no different than a community. When one machine gets hacked because of lax security, we’re all prone. When one person, who we’ll call the “black hat,” uses technology for nefarious deeds, we have to put up our defense en masse, as part of the network, part of the community.
These are the most fascinating, the most recognizable, facets of technology to me. It stands as a metaphor and an allegory for communal life. Usually, what I write about vis-à-vis technology carries some negativity: the black hats hacked a system and the white hats can’t figure it out; cyberbullying and cyberstalking; woeful government security practices; getting your credit card spoofed after shopping online; and on and on. Really though, this week, I want to engage the utter positivity of technology and how it actually keeps us moving together with compassion, empathy, and a sense of community. You can acknowledge tomorrow at the overstuffed dinner table how the younger generations are tilting their heads down toward their screens. It’s impolite at a minimum, and certainly not model behavior at the Thanksgiving table. Also, though, try to actively understand that the connections they’re making, the community, are part and parcel of that seemingly ill-mannered conduct.
Lastly, before I tend to the bountiful, brining bird and ready it for the next few phases between now and Thursday’s dinner, do yourself and your loved ones a favor and find your own bit of gratitude in something that on its surface seems unworthy of appreciation. There are many days when I loathe technology, the security of it, and its hazards that are now part of society. But today I am thankful for all it’s given me. I celebrate how I’ve been put into the position to know a little about it and thus to be able to squeeze some goodness from it. I am grateful that you, too, from time to time read some of my work in technology because in the end when we’re all gathered in the internet community if we can collectively move forward in a positive way each one of us realizes the benefit.
Ed is a professor of cybersecurity, an attorney, and a trained ethicist. Reach him at email@example.com.