What Technology Reveals About Us

| July 19, 2012

The Future Is An Oxymoron by Alan Webber

Let’s start with a few math formulas.

Change + Leadership = Innovation Change – Leadership = Fear

And finally, the Rule of Thumb: Change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change.

Today the cost of the status quo is rising dramatically. In the absence of leadership, the overwhelming response of the American public is fear. Fear of change, fear of loss, fear of the future. Fear inevitably brings out the dark side of the American story.

Where America at its best is a nation of generosity, fear brings out a sense of entitlement. Where America historically has operated as a nation of pragmatists, fear brings out self-deception. Where America has cared deeply about community and protected the interests of those less well off, fear brings out narcissism.

Because of the deep and dark powers of fear, economic and social issues ultimately become issues of character. Character projected onto the canvas of daily events and regular decisions.

The same is true of technology. Technology is never about technology. Technology is always about us. Which is why technology tends to create an either/or dichotomy as a reaction.

Technology will kill us. Or technology will save us. The answer is more technology. The answer is less technology. The technology gives us the ability to stay connected to each other. Technology robs us of our privacy. Technology gives us a huge amplifier. Technology gives us a badly needed simplifier. Technology is all about going global. Technology is ultimately deeply personal. Technology will lead us to dystopia. Technology will lead us to you-topia.

But what if the future isn’t a dichotomy? What if the future is an oxymoron?

Maybe we should stop looking at technology as a creator of trade-offs, and see it as a creator of a new space entirely. Instead of examining the choices along a spectrum, maybe we need to get off that vector entirely–rather than going wider, we go deeper. Maybe we should ask different things of technology than what we’ve focused on so far.

Rather than speed, ubiquity, or availability, maybe we should ask for introspection, self-awareness, and meaning. Maybe what we need is MeaningfulTech or IntroSpecTech.

It’s not so far from what we’re getting–not more, but deeper. We already have smartphones and apps that make each of us the center of our own universe. That’s the essence of i-world.

But what’s missing are the apps and the technology to help us make meaning out of that world. In a world where it’s all about “me,” how can I discover who “I” am? How could the design of a device–the social design, the technological design–promote better answers to matters of introspection?

What if the best connection between my smartphone and me isn’t to the outside world–but to the inside on? What if Google Maps had charts to the inner recesses of what it means to be a human? What if we had a technology compass to connect us to all the possibilities in the outside world, but starting with our own selves and our inner worlds?

What if you went onto your smartphone with an app that allowed you, not to meet up with your friends, your tribe, your co-workers, but with your self?

An app that says, “Find your self here.” Facebook for One. Then you’d have started to create a future that’s an oxymoron.

Technology: The Essence of Making Meaning.

Alan Webber is the co-founder of Fast Company and the former editor of the Harvard Business Review. This blog was originally published on Alan’s blog: Rule of Thumb, reprinted here with permission. ¬†Alan W is a friend and contributor¬†to Good-b.

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