The purpose of technology is to allow us to do things more easily or more efficiently so that we have more time and energy to invent more technologies. That, at least, would seem to be one way of describing human history, from the invention of the wheel, to the steam engine, to the first vacuum-based hair-cutting systems. Whether this technological progress has had a positive impact on the human condition is, I think, open to debate. Personally, I rather doubt that we are any happier now than our predecessors were a century, three centuries, or thirty centuries ago. True, we don’t have to contend with the bubonic plague or demonic possession; but neither did our ancestors have to deal with TV shows involving Tyra Banks or with being on hold with Bell Canada for half an hour.
Still, despite my misgivings about where technology is ultimately taking us, I do find many online tools to be nifty. A case in point is Google Docs which is very handy for sharing documents of all sorts with a private or public audience. For example, my colleague Trevor Holmes and I play squash a few times a week and I record the outcome of each match on a series of spreadsheets in Google Docs. By doing so, our fans (both of them) can follow Trevor’s journey as he gets closer and closer to beating me, only to find that each time the crown of victory eludes his grasp. If I wanted to, I could also use Google Docs to write a narrative description of our squash matches using a web-based application that is not that different from Microsoft Word. Alternatively, I could create a slide show in Google Docs, using an application that rivals PowerPoint, in order to explain the folly of Trevor’s quest. I could even use Google Calendar to share the dates of our matches. And I could configure all of this so that our fans could only view the documents or I could configure things for collaboration, so that our fans could also edit and revise the documents, thereby giving them the illusion that they too are part of athletic history. Best of all, I can access my Google Docs from anywhere, allowing me to surreptitiously adjust the scores of our old squash games so that Trevor not only performs poorly in the present but also gets worse and worse in the past.
If you haven’t yet checked out Google Docs, I would encourage you to do so. You may not have a project as grand as our squash matches, but Google doesn’t mind.