I was recently sitting with a friend and we were discussing technology and its impact on people. I think we agreed that technology can often (unhelpfully) get a bad rap for causing untold woes in our modern world. We also agreed it’s not technology that’s necessarily the cause of these said problems. When you think about it, it’s not any particular technology’s 'fault' for being created in the first place. It was something a human decided to create and then release into the world.
This lead to an observation and that is: rather than us just creating new technologies – (just because we can) – shouldn’t we also be asking the “why” question more often? Why do we think a technology should be created? What do we think the human impact will be? Is that impact worth it in the short, medium and long term? Maybe, just because a particular technology can be created (however technically brilliant it may turn out to be), it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be created.
Silicon Valley’s biggest failing is not poor marketing of its products, or follow-through on promises, but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry.
A week later I came across an article by Airbnb, “Sketching Interfaces: Generating code from low fidelity wireframes”. I have to say I thought it sounded very clever indeed and in many ways it makes obvious sense. I mean, who wouldn't want to optimise the website/product development process. There are many benefits for sure. But, if I'm completely honest, it also filled me with a measure of dread.
Now I confess I can’t really be neutral about this because I’m one of those that may well be affected by this technological development. Writing code for websites is currently the means by which I earn a living and I'm not that keen on the idea of it possibly becoming redundant.
Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I don’t want things to change, progress and evolve. I accept that it's a normal, healthy and exciting part of being human. However, I can't help thinking that there’s a lot more at stake if we merely get wrapped up in creating new technologies just because we can. Could it be that we're becoming overly accustomed to – (if not addicted to) – the ego trip of patting ourselves on the back about our latest and greatest inventions, albeit at the unfortunate expense of losing touch with real people. Could there be a point where we (humans) may possibly lose the essence of what/who we are – even in the midst of our technological wizardry.
The Airbnb article reminded me of something Om Malik wrote about 18 months ago, “Silicon Valley Has An Empathy Vacuum”. I still think it’s a worthwhile read. If just to remind ourselves that there are (and always will be) real people, real blood and skin in amongst it all.
Here's hoping that we who have the wonderful ability to create these technological marvels don't forget this.