Give Thanks For the Small Things

November 24, 2015 by

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things.” – Vernor Vinge

Two quotes that consider small things differently. Small things can combine to make the amazing or the terrible. Sadly, recent news from attacks in Paris and Mali to Russian plane being shot down remind us of small things combining to cause immense grief and fear. This Forbes article provides insight into how even gaming technology can be used to aid terror. Encryption is another technology employed by bad actors. Technology is amoral; it can be used for good or for bad.

Seems appropriate this week to express thanks for positive, constructive uses of technology.

  1. Medical technology: From stethoscopes to computed tomography scans (better known as CAT scans), advances in medicine are fueled by technology. Most of us have personal examples of how medical technology has made a positive difference in our lives. I’m thankful for this technology, and the skilled professionals trained to use it.
  2. Videoconferencing: The joy of seeing a distant friend or relation via a smartphone; the convenience of high definition videoconferences at work. We are fortunate indeed to have this technology available. I am thankful not only for this technology, but the appreciation it gives me for the handwritten letter.
  3. Power and plumbing: Light. Heat. Clean water. These basics don’t happen by magic or accident. In northern New Hampshire, where I spent a lot of time as a child, the nearby river had an old hydropower plant, long since decommissioned. These old plants maybe produced a few hundred kilowatts, puny compared to major dams like Hoover, which produces 2,000 megawatts. However, dams like Niagara, Hoover, and Aswan have their roots in these early hydro plants. I’m thankful for both the gritty beauty of these old hydro plants and the powerful new plants that feed our contemporary lives.
  4. Global Positioning Systems (GPS): My first experience with this was after renting a car in the United Kingdom and being startled out of a jet-lagged state by being informed “traffic was flowing freely” on the M25. With roots going as far back as the 1940s technology, 24 satellites formed the first GPS in the mid 1990s. Twenty years later, I’m thankful that this technology enhances safety and convenience when traveling.
  5. Pop-up timers on turkeys: Patented in 1966, and apparently not appreciated by everyone, this is a boon to those of us who don’t count cooking as a top skill.

Technology is based on small things; 0 (zero) and 1 (one) being a primary example. There are apparently about 25 components in any given smartphone and about 5 billion “things” in the Internet of Things (#IOT). As technology professionals, we have a particular responsibility to ensure we are thankful for these small things.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Asides:

Must-read paper from the 2015 Public Sector for the Future Summit at Harvard University.

Speaking of the impact of small things…will humans “unexpectedly become outmatched by a smarter competitor?” This New Yorker long read discusses artificial intelligence (AI) and the potential for utopia or destruction.

Disruption is a process, not a moment in time. Clay Christensen reminds us of what disruption really is.

This year’s pardoned turkey is from California…as amusing as this tradition is, I’m not sure flying a bird from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., is very pleasant for the bird in question. Can’t they pardon it via Skype and use the savings to feed some homeless people?

Thankful for #social colleagues who original encouraged and supported me using social media to enhance my contribution and network: @valaafshar, @mkrigsman, @micastark, @PortsmouthJay.

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