As I write this column, I'm a passenger in a vehicle that's doing roughly 75 mph down the interstate.
There's nothing terribly remarkable about that on the surface. Everybody has a laptop these days, and anyone who's used a cell phone has done basically the same thing, since voice and data are just different sides of the same coin, as far as computers are concerned.
But if you really consider the Rube Goldberg-esque sequence of events taking place, you'll realize that something special is happening.
My laptop is tethered wirelessly to my phone, which is providing Internet service to the laptop. My phone is in turn connected to a high-speed 4G network that is connected to an Internet backbone, linking most of the world's computers and mobile devices together.
My words, as I type them, are being instantly transmitted into a platform residing in “the cloud” – multiple servers in multiple locations around the country connected by the Internet. People in a newsroom several hundred miles away can work with that data. And it's all something we take for granted at this point.
We have this capability because it (supposedly) makes our lives easier. We can exchange ideas and information 1,000 times quicker and more effectively than we could just 10 years before, and this was driven by a desire for convenience and speed. And yet some important and fundamental things remain beyond our grasp.
We can distribute data efficiently to millions of people, and the principles of the technology that govern that distribution could just as easily be applied to food distribution, albeit on a slower and much more macroscopic scale – we've got plenty of food; we just can't get it to the people who need it the most. But there's no economic imperative to apply it that way, so it doesn't happen.
The same could be said for any sort of supply-and-demand scenario, including electricity, fuel, medicine, production, and shipping capacity.
But the world doesn't really work that way, which is why, at the end of the day, humanity is a lot like a lazy high school student – we've got a ton of potential, if only we'd apply ourselves. With the technology we have today, applied in the correct way, we could put a stop to global warming, feed every person on Earth, and eliminate poverty. And imagine what we'd be able to do if we were able to throw off those burdens.
Economically, I'm about as conservative as they come… but we're talking table scraps here. If we harnessed technology to optimize our lives and our society a quarter as efficiently as we can manage data and information – something we do for the sake of convenience – we could put an end to famine with our table scraps and nobody would ever notice the difference.
If only there was an economic imperative to do so.
-Nick DeLorenzo is The Times Leader's director of Interactive and New Media. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.