Audrey and I were having a conversation about what technology ends up actually doing in our lives. At work we switched to a new HR solution for tracking time, which upon my first click told me I needed to instal Flash. At home our apartment complex got a new system for paying our rent, which was similar to work, a less than ideal technological solution in which we are mandated to use. Can you see it? That beautiful vision of technology coming into our lives, making it better, leaving us with more leisure time, convenience, and automation. No? We can’t either.
Most of the technology in our daily lives is shit. It is poorly designed, insecure, and doesn’t serve us well—-however, it also pushes us to serve it in return. Yet, us technologists keep doubling down on the fact that technology is the solution. This application sucks, but if we could just develop one that didn’t suck, everything would be OK. Then when it doesn’t, we just repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Without ever being critical of our technological solutionism, happily repeating it like some low budget technological Groundhog Day. While Audrey and I were talking this morning, I drew up this diagram (which I digitized — cause tech makes everything better ya know).
There are many competing forces at play when it comes what technology that actually gets delivered, and it seems like most of us involved in the actual usage and delivery of these applications are in compliant denial regarding the wider forces at play. This was my first attempt at breaking down the reality of what technology ends up doing in our lives.
- What It Could Do - This is the futurist view of the role that technology plays in our lives. Always the optimist. Always something brighter just on the horizon. Within X years technology is going to make our lives better. Acting as the “free beer tomorrow” for the 21st century--hanging over the door of every establishment we dwell.
- What It Can Do - This is what is even possible. Actually taking into consideration things like physics, chemistry, nature, and all those other pesky little things that still seem to apply in cyberspace, despite popular belief that it is a separate space.
- What It Takes To Do - What is the actual cost of delivering technology, making sure it is secure, stable, and something that can (should) be used by a wider audience. The financial cost. The environmental cost. The social cost. All of the costs accrued before we actually get to the level of technological delivery that is acceptable.
- Unknown Of What It Will Do - All the unintended consequences of technology in our lives, which you can ignore and execute yourself from by selling your startup to a bigger company, making them the keepers of the flaming bag of shit you developed and made a shit ton of money off of, before everything went south.
- What We Want It To Do - Then there is our own expectations and beliefs around what technology should do and be in our life. All of which is definitely influenced by the previous four areas, but also should reflect our individual as well as collective needs, not just the needs of the markets, or a few wealthy visionaries.
These areas reflect the forces influencing what technology ends up doing in our lives, leading us to a place where technology doesn’t quite live up to the hype or what we believe in our heads. However, even when you are able to deliver a satisfactory technological solution into the real world, there are actually other forces at play that will drag you down, and ensure that you end up delivering something that is complete shit, or at least becomes weaponized so that it can exploit people.
- Capitalism - What capitalism wants from technology is radically different than what we want from technology. And, ultimately capitalism will get what it wants. It has more resources than we do, and has a much bigger zombie army doing its bidding.
- Surveillance Capitalism - This recently opened frontier of capitalism that is all about injecting (shit) technology in our lives just that it can monitor, track, surveillance, and then nudge our way into ensuring our lives are just a series of behavioral transactions that can be monetized.
- Scoundrel Capitalism * - The fuck y’all I got mine libertarian nitrous oxide that fuels the world wide web, just waiting to use the shiny technology that has been injected into your life for their own purposes. Whether that is to stalk and troll you, steal your identity, or manipulate you so that they can bring down democracy, these actors are more than happy to influence what technology ends up doing in our lives.
I am sure there are more influences that I am neglecting, but this reflects much of the shadow forces at play when it comes to influencing the applications on our home laptops, television, and mobile devices—-as well as the matrix terminals we are plugged into each day at work. Ultimately I feel like we are naively focused on technology being good, ignoring our biases and influence listed in 1-5, while also being set up to be willfully ignorant or at least helpless of items 6-8. What is really magically beautiful, is how we seem to be repeating ourselves, and buying into each wave of technology being imposed in our lives, despite all of these realities.
I am concerned with security and privacy, but hell yeah I’ll buy that Alexa for my home! Shit, I’ll buy one for each room. I am concerned with foreign actors influencing our elections, but I’m happy to share that fake news story I did not research on Facebook and Twitter. I hear about applications snooping on people’s mobile address books, but I’ll leave 86 apps which I never use on my Android phone. While it is easy to point the finger at tech companies for the current state of what technology is in our lives, but I’d say we should also be pointing the finger at ourselves, for accepting such a low bar when it comes to what we let into our worlds.
* I just made up scoundrel capitalism after watching The Empire Strikes Back with the Seattle Symphony, where Leia calls Han a scoundrel.