Essays on Technology and Culture

Making and Flinging Bits

So much of our technological “innovations” are either about flinging existing bits from Point A to Point B, or making new bits to fling from Point A to Point B. We consume bits, and we create bits, most of us consuming far more bits than we create. Those bits take the form of TV shows, video games, photographs, books, music, Tweets and Facebook Statuses, and pithy blog posts about technology, but they’re all just bits. We can make them faster, and we can fling them faster, but they’re still just bits.

There are so many problems that cannot be solved by flinging bits. No matter how many bits we can fling per second, those bits won’t clean someone’s filthy drinking water, slow down global warming, or any of a number of problems that require flinging real things, which requires real people. Sure, sometimes flinging bits can result in flinging a real thing, but those bits aren’t the thing, they are just the signal that a real thing is needed. You fling bits to Uber, Uber flings bits to a driver, the driver comes to you.

That’s all well and good. But you can’t fling bits to get clean water. Many people without clean water don’t even have a device to fling bits with. Even if they did, it wouldn’t do them any good until they have the infrastructure to fling bits.

There’s so much brainpower and money locked up in making and flinging bits. If we applied that same money and brainpower to flinging real things, what miracles might we bring about?