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New Technology, New Rewards, and New Risks

After all the fanfare of the first public displays of his new invention, the telephone, died down, I like to imagine Thomas Edison putting his new device to personal use. I picture ol’ Tommy E. leaning back in a worn, leather chair, dialing up an old friend to discuss his newest success, and the conversation going like this:

With this...

But really, how strange is it to think that it only took 140 years to go from the ornate, wired telephone contraptions of the nineteenth century to the metal and glass smartphones of today? If you told me even five years ago that I would be buying Christmas presents from my phone while waiting in line at the DMV I definitely would have been skeptical. Now, however, I absolutely feel like I am missing out if I’m without my phone for more than a few hours.

Looking back and attempting to figure out how we got to this stage of communication dependency, I blame the invention and adoption of text messaging as the real point at which we Millennials became addicts of instant communication. Little did we know that the ability to text our friends during high school algebra class about what time we should have our parents drop us off at the movie theater that night would be the gateway to sending screenshots of funny keyboard auto-corrects and pictures of cats in outer space.

Cats in outer space

With all this fun that we have become accustomed to, though, comes the unfortunate side effect of serious privacy concerns and previously unimagined, complex legal issues. People used to joke about how government employees probably screened all of our wireless communication and made fun of us for the dumb things people send to each other, until 2009 when the nation found out that that might have actually happened, courtesy of the NSA. People have to be aware of the security of their wireless network before sharing sensitive information, as what they share from personal devices may not be as personal as they think. For a recent example, as this ABC News article explains, travelers to this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have been encouraged to travel without their usual cells phones and rather take a temporary device “clean” of personal data, and even to use only a temporary email address while abroad. This is because Russian law actually requires telecommunications infrastructure to be built with technology collect and store the data that it transmits. While not an issue in the U.S., international travelers must deal with a very real risk that their personal information could be obtained by malicious parties.


Texting began the tidal wave that grew into the instant communication abilities enjoyed today by everyone with a smartphone, while simultaneously bringing about security and privacy concerns that were inconceivable to most people only a few years ago. Would we have been better off without it? That depends on whom you ask, and what unforeseen consequences come with the next great leap in communication technology.

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