End of year an occasion for reflection on tech in society

December is a bit of a magical time of year. It’s the moment when everyone has a little bit of extra charm in their voice, when prices are a bit more reasonable, and more people are back to work for seasonal employment. It’s the real “win-win” of the year in business since sales skyrocket, leaving companies in the black, and customers save a little cash and have presents for friends and loved ones. December is also a time of reflection and, for Vassar students, a great moment to look back at the last semester and see how technology has evolved in just a few short months—not to mention make a few predictions for the future.

The last four months have proven eventful in the technology world as are every Q3/Q4 for the year. While tons of new devices made their way to the forefront, perhaps the most apparent were the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III in the area of phones, and the iPad Mini and Nexus 7 for tablets. The iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III are important because this is first time ever Samsung have claimed the same brand identity and fashion statement behind their products that Apple has. This is why the Galaxy S III is the best-selling phone of the year thus far, and a credit to the years Samsung spent marketing and advertising the series as an iPhone alternative. Meanwhile, the iPhone 5 is continuing to work hard to stay relevant against a wave of Android devices and difficulty in maintaining its unique brand identity. I highly doubt Apple is going anywhere—not to mention the iPhone—but I do think they may finally begin to see their brand status weaken against the power of other brands. The Nexus 7 and iPad Mini, meanwhile, are ushering in a whole new category of sub-tablets The 7” tablet, once solely identified by eBook-hybrids like the Nook Color and Kindle Fire, is joined by the much stronger (and better fashion statements) iPad Mini and Nexus 7.

At Vassar, this was the semester we first saw the usage of Google Apps for Education in full swing. For years, Vassar had utilized an absolutely outdated and atrocious mail system that now, thanks to Google, has been streamlined for the 21st century. The power of Google Apps has also given the campus other features and services for better communication, collaboration, and education. Furthermore, we’re creating a seamless environment between our computers and our favorite devices. Together, these elements are saving us tons of time and tons of money (given that Google sells Apps for Education at a fraction of its closest competitor’s price) but are we forgetting the bigger picture? Google’s very business model feeds off of relevance, and Google is not only offering competitive Apps services to Vassar, but also hiring student ambassadors to spread this philosophy. For a company so invested in knowing what we want to buy and what services we desire, is it safe that they now have a grip tighter than ever on our education? I digress; this is not a question with a right or wrong answer, it’s merely an acknowledgment of the sweeping changes in our lifestyle.

In the end, I expect the next semester and rest of 2013 to only continue this trend of exponential change toward a more integrated technical environment. In the world of consumer electronics as a whole, I expect the sub-tablet to explode as a much more compact and convenient alternative to the 10” tablet experience, and for smartphones to continue dominating the market—the only difference being Samsung and Apple’s competing on a level closer than ever. BlackBerry will try to stay relevant next year, but with a March or April release date, I’m not sure who will be willing to wait for the once-famous manufacturer.

At Vassar, I hope our forms of technology continue to integrate and that the administration and CIS look for ways to better unite our campus experience with our gadgets. I’d love it if we had a faster internet connection myself, but I’m not asking for miracles either. The biggest reality for the coming decade will likely be how relevant our internet spaces—SayAnything, LikeMeMaybe, et cetera—are set to become; future classes, including the incoming Class of 2017 (which just received its Early Decision I results, as it happens) will be ever-more tech-oriented and drawn to these unique spaces. This is the dominating trend of our entire social world, and that’s where we will see a culture emerge from.

The question that remains is how we decide to use these powerful, new, seamless, and ever-present elements of communication.

—Josh Sherman is a freshman at Vassar College.

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