The Editor’s Desk: Technology is a double-edged sword

Technology can do wonders, but we have to be careful how we use it (and what we believe)

Two stories of technology: one light-hearted, one not so much.

The “not so much” one first. Just after 11 p.m. on Jan. 14 I was about ready to call it a night when I received a Facebook message from a friend, saying there had been a shooting in Cache Creek. I asked for clarification: a shooting as in random shots fired, or a shooting as in someone shot and injured or killed? The reply came back immediately: someone killed.

It didn’t take me long to find information online about the event, some of it from sources I trusted, some of it dubious. Within a few minutes I had the names of the alleged victim and alleged suspect, where they lived, details about both, and a good deal more. One Facebook page was full of comments—and even video—of the police hunt for the suspect in real time, with details of where the person had been spotted and where he appeared to be heading.

Some of the information subsequently proved to be accurate; other information was not. But through the wonders of technology, I was able to get information of varying accuracy about a serious crime while sitting at home; information that in the past would only have come out (if it ever did) after the fact through official and semi-official channels.

Now for the light-hearted story. Two Christmases ago our son gave us a handy little gizmo that plugs into the back of the TV in the living-room, and allows me to sync my iPhone with it so I can watch Netflix shows or YouTube videos on the big screen using the apps on my phone.

It’s not something I use a lot, but earlier this week I wanted to show my husband the amusing Hyundai ad that had aired during the Super Bowl, so instead of pulling it up on my computer I fired up the YouTube app on my phone and walked into the living-room.

The TV had been turned off, but as I got within range it automatically turned on and switched to the right source. Using my phone I found the ad, hit play, and voila: there it was, screening full-size on our TV.

I shook my head. There I stood, holding a device about the size of a pack of playing cards and using it to pull up and watch on my television set anything that is on YouTube, at the touch of a button. Now, one of the things available to view on YouTube is the 1939 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I recalled how when I first saw the film, in 1976, it was only because CBS decided to show it on TV late one December night and I was allowed to stay up to watch it.

At some point in 1977 I tape-recorded the entire film by waiting for another TV broadcast, then holding my recorder up to the television for 90 minutes (plus ads). In the early 1980s I recorded it on videotape, so I was no longer dependent on the whims of a TV programmer, and later still bought the DVD, then downloaded it onto my iPod Classic.

Now, if I have my phone with me and am within 20 or so feet of my TV, I can watch the film whenever I want to. In 1976, that was science fiction; today it’s nothing special. Such is the wonder of modern technology, which also allowed me to gather information about a major crime while I was sitting in my pyjamas in my study.

However, at a Town Hall meeting in Cache Creek last week, Sgt. Kathleen Fitzgerald warned about the possible dangers inherent in that technology. Residents were using it to warn others, which is good, but she pointed out that criminals were also able to access the same information, adding that it was important to remember that not everything on social media is true. And what if someone viewing the real-time information about a suspect’s whereabouts decided to take matters into their own hands, and put themselves in danger?

Technology has amazing potential and capabilities; let’s be careful how we use it. In the meantime, I encourage you to watch that Hyundai ad; it really is quite funny (go to

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