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Why Americans Don’t Know How to Feel About Technology

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FB Joke

If you’re active user of Facebook, you probably encountered a hoax this past week stating that the social media company was going to make all your information public, unless you subscribed for $5.99 a month. To many of us it seemed utterly preposterous, and the ensuing memes mocking those who shared the post were a good indicator of how tech savvy posts felt about those who didn’t know it was a hoax (totally contemptuous.) That said, a few relatively intelligent human beings I know shared the post, which is a good indicator of how confused Americans are about their rights, how tech companies operate and most importantly, how they feel about tech.

fb hoax

There’s a bit of a paradox contained in the concept of that hoax, which is: If you really think a company is so untrustworthy that they would spontaneously violate your privacy at midnight on a current date without ever contacting you, why are you giving them your information at all?

That paradox is reflected in a recent survey by Vrge Analytics aimed at capturing the current “digital attitudes” of Americans. In particular, the survey focused the purpose of technology and how technology companies will operate and impact society. Taken as one off stats, there are some interesting sounds bites.

      52% of 18 – 24-year olds believe tech is focused on improving the lives of the rich.
      25% of those surveyed said they would have a chip implanted in their brain to access the internet.
      6% percent of those polled would vote for Mark Zuckerberg as President of the United States – the same percentage that would vote for Jeb Bush.

But when you look at all the questions combined, what you see is a somewhat conflicted picture of how Americans feel about technology.

For example, while 1 in 4 people would have an Internet chip implanted in their brain, roughly 1/3 in people thinks it’s too early to decide if tech companies need government regulation, and 43% of people think that regulation is coming soon for tech companies. 19% say regulation will never happen and 10% have no idea. Are we ready for an implant with no regulation? It’s hard to envision what the best case scenario is for any of those people, but it’s easy to imagine all the panicked Facebook posts it could inspire.

Speaking of panic, while 25% of those polled are gunning to have an internet browser in their brain, 21% think that cyber attacks will be technology development that has the biggest impact on society in the next 10 years. (That’s slightly more than the 20% of responders who felt like wearable technology would be the next big thing.) And it’s not just the expected old, luddites who are uncertain about tech.

In fact, although 52% of 18-24-year olds think tech is focused on improving the lives of the rich, the results aren’t so clear when you remove the age fitler. Out of all those polled, 35% actually think tech is bridging the gap between the lives of the rich and poor, 23% are undecided. In cities like San Francisco where tech is the political and social topic du jour, we have strong opinions about tech. But those beliefs may not be consistent around the country.

When it comes to tech, it’s hard to categorize people by the usual demographic suspects. Rather the types of technology you’re exposed to and how you use it are probably the biggest influences on your feelings. And depending on your experience, you might be confused, or conflicted. As we saw with the Facebook hoax, not having a solid understanding of how technology works will sway your opinions about the future, but so will being totally addicted to a particular technology.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see additional surveys from companies like Vrge and get a clearer picture of how the world see tech. But in the meantime, I heard Twitter is rolling out a polling tool for extra-special beta testers.

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Rachel Balik - Low-Brow Luminary

Rachel Balik - Low-Brow Luminary

Rachel has explored a number of badly paying jobs over the years, including nanny, off-Broadway production assistant, philosophy grad student, journalist, teacher and assistant at a yoga studio. She is now in her best paying job as a tech marketer, but retains her broke cred by earning a fraction of what most 23-year-old male engineers do.