Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Opinion

LeMieux: From iPhones to Facebook, technology changes the world

Last week, as America focused on the Senate's attempts to pass health care reform, the latest mass shootings in the Bronx and Arkansas, and another 140-character attack by the leader of the free world, two important and related milestones were realized.

First, the iPhone celebrated its 10th anniversary. Since its launch in 2007, the iconic smartphone has sold more than 1.2 billion units and transformed the mobile phone from a device for phone calls and texts to a handheld computer platform of limitless applications. The word "revolutionary" is overused, but for the iPhone it is spot-on. Not since the advent of the telephone, radio, automobile and television have the lives of Americans been so profoundly changed.

This past week also featured a stunning announcement from Facebook. The social media giant reported that its platform now has 2 billion subscribers. That's almost 30 percent of the world's population! When you subtract more than 3 billion people who live in dire poverty worldwide, and the 1 billion-plus children, you come to the conclusion that most every adult of some means is on Facebook. Surely an accomplishment of that magnitude took decades to achieve.

It took 13 years.

By comparison, it took Christianity some 2000 years to have 2.2 billion adherents. Islam, a mere 1,400 years old, has fewer subscribers than Facebook — only 1.8 billion.

As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explains in his recent book, Thanks for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, the world is transforming at a dizzying pace. Not since Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440 has technology had such a profound and destabilizing impact on the world. The printing press' transmission of quick and accurate information created literacy among lay people. That in turn deprived priests of the sole dominion of reading and teaching the Bible, leading to the division of Christianity into Catholics and Protestants and a 30-year war in Europe. Readily available writing also led to scientific breakthroughs and the Age of Enlightenment, which ended the age of kings and sowed the seeds of the American experiment.

The societal, political and cultural changes we are experiencing due to the Internet, handheld computers, social media and artificial intelligence are equally profound. Terrorists are recruited online, one-third of U.S. marriages start with online dating and every day technology kills another job, from the tollbooth operator, to wait staff (where iPads are used for ordering), to retail store clerks as more sales are made online. In truth, no job, not even computer programming, is safe from elimination by technology. Politics is no less susceptible to the influences of technological transformation. President Barack Obama used online fundraising to fuel an underdog candidacy against heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. President Donald Trump uses Twitter to speak directly to his supporters and as a rhetorical weapon against his foes in the media. And technology, namely hacking, was the implement the Russian government used in its efforts to undermine our election.

Technology and its acceleration is the destabilizing, disruptive and transformative force of our times. It may cure cancer and lead to the end of our cultural, religious and political institutions as we know them, all within our lifetimes. To make matters more interesting, the speed of change is likely to increase, not decline. Drones, self-driving cars, computer screen glasses: here, almost here, and coming soon.

I once thought that a person born in 1900 who lived to 1970 would experience an unmatched lifetime of innovation — from the first flight of the airplane to the moon landing. Now, for my four children ages 7 to 14, I can only imagine what they will see during their lives. It is an extraordinary time to be alive, but accelerating technology will be as disruptive as exciting.

Buckle up, America!

George LeMieux served as a Republican U.S. senator, governor's chief of staff and deputy attorney general.

Comments
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Donít fall for Constitution Revision Commissionís tricks

Editorial: Donít fall for Constitution Revision Commissionís tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the stateís fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the November b...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Rednerís court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Rednerís court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18
Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Any movement on modernizing local transportation is welcome, even small steps like the million dollars the state recently approved to design a Tampa Bay regional transit plan.But the region wonít make any progress on transportation, its single most p...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Editorial: Fight harder on citrus greening

A new report by scientists advising the federal government finds no breakthrough discovery for managing citrus greening, a chronic disease killing Floridaís citrus industry. This should be a wake-up call to bring greater resources to the fight.The re...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18

Editorial: Floridians should focus more on health

A new snapshot of the nationís health shows a mixed picture for Florida and the challenges that residents and the health care community face in improving the quality of life.Americans are living longer, exercising more and doing better at managing th...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18
Editorial: 5 key issues where Scott, Nelson differ in Senate race

Editorial: 5 key issues where Scott, Nelson differ in Senate race

Gov. Rick Scott kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign last week by reciting tired lines about career politicians and mischaracterizing himself as an outsider. That pitch may have worked during the tea party wave eight years ago, but now the Republican ...
Published: 04/10/18
Updated: 04/13/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg should move carefully on banning straws

Editorial: St. Petersburg should move carefully on banning straws

St. Petersburg city officials are exploring how to cut down on single-use plastic straws, a commendable effort to make the city even more environmentally minded. But to succeed, City Council members should craft a modest, reasonable restriction that ...
Published: 04/10/18