I recently read an interesting article in the Economist – ‘What will horrify your children?’, a thought experiment on what future generations will chide us on how we behaved, what we failed to do or did in excess. That made me think about how they will judge us on what we did with digital technologies. Digital has proven to be one of the most powerful technologies and those who lived over the past few decades have had the unique privilege of being able to employ it for use or enjoy the varied fruits of it in the form or products and services. This digital age is rightfully treated as the most recent industrial revolution – a digital industrial revolution that has forcefully moved the economy and society forward in many respects.
Digital technologies are the heart of this industrial revolution and serve as the energy that power the generation and execution of ideas that define this age. If we consider digital as an energy source and harnessing it in innovative ways as a prime activity that drives this industrial revolution, it stands to reason that we question if we are applying digital energy to the right problems? If we step into the future and view this through the unbiased eyes of our children and grandchildren, what questions would they have for us on what we did with digital technologies? Here are a few that I came up with. You may or not agree with these questions. Or, you might have better questions and I would love to hear them as well. I do not have answers, but I suggest we take a step back and think of the part we play and the choices we make on digital technologies. I hope these questions are of some use for that purpose.
Here are the questions that can be posed by future generations to the present generation on the use of digital technologies:
- Did you do all you can with digital technologies to distribute prosperity more equitably?
- Did you do all you can with digital technologies to build a stronger, more peaceful and supportive world community?
- Did you do all you can with digital technologies to eradicate disease and alleviate the suffering due to any ailment or handicap?
- Did you do all you can with digital technologies to take care of our planet, its resources and all life on it?
- Did you do all you can with digital technologies to create a fairer society across genders, races, and different sections of society?
These questions cover different areas of economy and society and each of us might find only a question or two close to our area of work or interest. Our choice to address these questions can play a part in the decisions we make at our work, our contributions to our community or the choices we make in our personal lives. Why now? We are at an inflection point on how we perceive the role of digital technologies. Voices are getting louder about the impact of the tech companies and how deeply technology is impacting and influencing how we live or even how we think. A recent New York Times article on the 2010s headlined “The Decade Tech Lost Its Way” is an apt summary of the prevailing sentiment. We cannot rely on companies to take the lead getting the best of tech for all of mankind. Companies will channel technologies to offer products and services that are useful for sure and that can lead to positive outcomes, but the key difference is that the juiciest opportunities for companies do not equate to the most pressing problems in society. Positive outcomes through technology do not imply ideal outcomes. I think we should strive to do better. So, I believe that it is upon each of us through our work and other contributions to search for answers to these questions. I suggest we try to approach this in one of two ways – a) can we draw and strengthen the link between our everyday work to any of these questions above or any other questions that will be useful to address b) what can do we outside to work to address these questions through our relationships, time, intellect and creativity? In a series of short posts in the next few days, I hope to expand on each of these questions slightly.
What are your thoughts? Are there other questions that we need to consider in 2020? What can individuals do to get the most of technology for mankind? I would love to hear from you. I wish you all a wonderful 2020!