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The End of my Love Affair with Technology?

I just watched a documentary that I want to tell you about, but first, I would like to give a little history of my relationship with technology.

I LOVE technology.  From the moment the 5¼” floppy disc driven Compaq allowed me to calculate compensation plans so much more easily than the old 10-key calculator, all the way to being able to pick up my TV remote and ask Siri to find what I want to watch, I’m all in.

A lot of friends are threatening to leave Facebook, but I just can’t.  I can ignore the evil and negative because there is so much beauty being shared. And I keep up with friends and family I probably wouldn’t because of my introversion. Social media is an introvert’s best friend.  I can moderate how much to share and read, and when.

Much of my life depends upon technology – my finances, my Ancestry.com collection, my cemajewelry.com website, and sales, meeting virtually with clients in the face of COVID.

Yet, I do worry about the “big magnet in the sky” coming down and zapping every bit and byte to wipe it all out.

If that “big magnet” hit, I couldn’t reach my son since we both only have cell service, not landlines.  My connection with clients would go away – no more conference or video calls.  And 10 years of building my family’s heritage in Ancestry, with all of the photos and notes left by my parents and my in-laws would evaporate.  (Well, they’re actually still in a big box in the closet…)

I have also worried about data privacy, after all, you can’t read anything these days without dire warnings about cybersecurity.  I work hard to protect my online privacy and identify and sense that the risk justifies the end.  And hey, I don’t have anything to hide, so why should I worry, right?

And I have worried about the proliferation of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  In my profession – corporate learning and human resources – we are already allowing “the machine” to select job candidates, tell us what our next career move should be, recommend online classes to get us ready for that move, and give us instantaneous feedback on our performance.

A few years ago, a software vendor came up with a way to replace the antiquated corporate performance evaluation system with “likes” – someone helped me so I gave them a “like” which determined their overall performance.  Yeah, I thought that was pretty dumb, given human nature.

When I saw the trailer for Netflix’s documentary “The Social Dilemma” I just had to watch.  Oh my. Apparently, I was pretty naïve. I kept thinking it was data that was threatened.  I even alerted readers to a TED talk that says data has replaced land in the struggle for power.

Yes, ownership of data is an issue we, as humanity, will struggle mightily to resolve.  But there is something else more personal at stake. My state of mind is at risk.

I cannot explain this in a 1,000-word essay, so if you are curious and interested, I suggest that you watch “The Social Dilemma.”  But if you aren’t so inclined, here are a few tidbits. (Maybe you will be.)

Early on, technology companies realized that they had an opportunity to influence how people think and behave.  This isn’t really new; the profession of Marketing has studied and implemented the art of persuasion since it’s inception.  Some call it Propaganda.

Fueled by academia’s best and brightest at Stanford University, the Persuasive Technology Lab taught hundreds and Googlers and Facebookers how to use technology to influence behavior.  In the documentary, the young man who invented “Likes” speaks of how quickly that proliferated.  (Including corporate America’s performance evaluation systems.)

In 2013, one young Googler became concerned that technology was invading the personal space of users and shared a 141-slide-deck titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention” with his colleagues at Google.  He describes how the presentation caught fire and interest until it hit the desk of the CEO – then crickets. He left Google to start the Center for Humane Technology, a non-profit focused on the ethics of consumer technology.

The bottom line:  we only see what our “Likes” and history show us.  So, I see something different than you see and my predisposition digs in deeper and deeper because everything I thought I thought is being validated by hundreds of sources.

In the recently released book, Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History, Kurt Anderson makes a profound statement that, juxtaposed over this documentary, made me sit up and take notice.  He says:

One of my subjects in Fantasyland [an earlier book] is how conspiracy-theorizing became an American bad habit, a way our chronic mixing of fiction and reality got the best of us. Of course, there are secret cabals of powerful people who work to make big bad things happen, actual conspiracies, but the proliferation of conspiracy theories since the 1960s, so many so preposterous, has the unfortunate effect of making reasonable people ignore real plots in plain sight.

Yowsers.   So, I have to ask myself, what is this threat, and what do I do about it.  As one of the speakers in the documentary said, technology has given us some amazing things – from recovering long-lost relationships to connecting those in need with organ donors.  Throwing the baby out with the bathwater (sorry for the cliché) probably isn’t the answer.

But I wonder if the answer is far more simple.  What if we all understood that our minds are being manipulated and said “No” to the manipulation.  Understanding is far more than half the battle – it could be our way of escaping from this divided, angry world we seem to be living in.

I guess I could boycott Facebook, but I’m not sure what that will get me except missing the beauty I see so often.  I guess I could go off the grid and leave technology behind.

My behavior change won’t make a dent in this issue.  Only when those of us in the world seek to truly understand more than what we are presented online do we have a prayer of surviving what may be a “real plot in plain sight.”

Carol Anderson
Carol Andersonhttp://andersonperformancepartners.com
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing you sources and your concern, Carol.

    While I am a prolific Linkedin user I have had very little trust in Facebook and only joined a year ago. My distrust was confirmed when attending some of the Computer History Museum panel discussions, one on the Great Hack, what happened at our last election. The discussion is available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y26NQdTLtaw&list=PLQsxaNhYv8dZMhpT8-934UPMdtho7G2_W&index=12

    Mac, I agree with your recommendation of Kahneman’s Thinking Fast ans Slow and would suggest Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind as another read with food for thought.

    • Kahneman’s book on its way to me via the wonder of technology! I’ll check out Haidt’s book as well. You all are giving me all sorts of stuff to blow my mind more than it is.

      I’ve always distrusted FB – I joined when I was in grad school and you had to have an .edu email, but I wanted to “stalk” my son who was in college. Right there is a good reason to not trust. But the documentary I mentioned made me see a different side of the trepidation so I wanted to share.

      In my mind, awareness is half the battle. Thanks so much for joining in, Charlotte.

  2. Carol — I sincerely appreciate how your mind works; how you don’t come here with THE answers, but just some penetrating insight and questions. In terms of technology, the proverbial genie is out of the lamp, and none of us has wish strong enough to get it back in. I think all we can do is gauge or interaction with it – where and when we know of it – and choose to continue or not continue. Like you with FB.

    I can’t say for sure, but as comedian Bill Maher chortles “I know it to be true,” my parents likely felt the same angst about the early technology as I do of the present day’s. But as you point out, there are benefits. I’ve got a piece coming out on Wednesday about a Dr who uses crowdsourcing to solve medical diagnoses – and that crowdsourcing is powered by technology.

    What I do feel pretty strongly about is that much of our current K-12 education system needs to wake up quickly. We are still training our kids to do things that machines can already do. As Mac points out, being able to do Algebra computation is not as important as knowing how to think, how to reason. Technology enables collaborations, but it doesn’t teach us how to collaborate. That is a learned skill. Technology enables creativity and harnesses ingenuity, but it alone can’t nourish them. Schools need to become incubators of thinkers.

    Thanks for another powerful piece of writing – and thinking.

    • Jeff – thanks for your comment. I’m glad you understand how my mind works; I’m still trying to figure that out! :) I have the blessing and the curse to see all sides of everything. Painful, but it’s me. That said, I’m looking forward to your piece about the Doc – I still love technology and have faith in humanity that we can figure this out. Some day.

      • Hi Carol — Following on Charlotte and Mac’s suggestions, another book you might want to check out is THE POWER OF US written by David Price (OBE) . The books is very timely. Even though we are in this age of division and vitriol, Price notes the encouraging sign of people and organizations working together in unprecedented ways. At its heart, the book is about people-powered innovation whether it be in products, service or social movements. I just interviewed David on my podcast, and the episode will air on 10/6.

  3. Hi, Carol, and thanks.

    We had a great conversation about this in one of our first come-to-our-place-for-dinner-and-sit-six-feet-apart events last weekend.

    I’m not smart enough to suggest I have the answer to this dilemma, and two things come to mind: this is a very new phenomenon and it’s not going away. I would suggest that we all need to be more skeptical, thoughtful and curious as a species. If you haven’t already, read “Thinking Fast and Slow.”

    Our schools do not encourage enough examination and questioning. Knowing algebra may be far less important than knowing how to examine ideas and attitudes with a healthy dose of informed skepticism (one of the chapters of Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education). A friend once suggested “We have two corporations in our head. One manufactures BS, the other buys it.” We can always intercede in the second . . . .

    Be good. And well,
    Mac

    • Thanks for your comment, Mac. I guess my thought is that there is no answer. So you’re right, it’s up to us humans to educate ourselves to understand. I’ll check out the book recommendation – thanks for that. After many decades, I’m learning just how naive I am. Until Jeff Ikler pointed it out, I was blissfully unaware of the criteria that creates school textbooks. There is so much we have taken for granted that we now have to learn.

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