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How to be unpopular – criticise the loved
on 11 April 2014
I realise that this book is written by two supermen of our digital era, no doubt with the help of considerable professional support. It's dazzling with information and makes a ringing endorsement of the hype of our digital age. To criticise it will be to generate no doubt a host of unfavourable comment and accusations of being mired in the past. But honestly, although the research on the technologies themselves is excellent - full marks here - this is so framed in adulation it becomes just another overhyped unrealistic catalogue of how technology will save the world.
Technology is brilliant – I love my iPad, the kettle that makes my coffee that's been brought to me by a fair trade value stream all the way from Brazil, the fact that I can post this review into the Internet and it can be read by millions if they wish, that I can talk by Skype to my friends and work colleagues in Australia, America or Denmark, and all at the same time. I love pacemakers and cybernetically controlled automobiles that auto drive. I've made a career in technology since my 20s and worked with many of the world's leading technology firms as a consultant.
But for those reasons I know how easy it is to turn technology into the wonder working Merlin, the magician that will solve all problems, when it cannot and won't.
Let me tell you what the generation of technology pioneers in the 70s and early 80s of last century genuinely believed (I worked for IBM at the time). We believe that in 30 years time, by the beginning of the 21st-century, most people would not need to work more than three days a week and our standard of living would be much greater. Why was this? It was because the computer and robotics were going to remove the necessity to work. Moreover the work that we do would be far more interesting because all of the mundane stuff would be done by computers. People really believed this: is that your experience today?
The Internet is changing the world, but it is for both good and ill. It will create no more community than the telephone or the neighbourhood grapevine. Community is created by socially minded human beings using the means at their disposal. The technologies that we create are created by us, reflecting our natures and by and are used by us reflecting our natures. Whether you watch porn or study chemistry, read the classics online or dump your latest "I am now having coffee in Starbucks" posting to Facebook, depends on you not the Internet. That's why some Twitter feeds are interesting and others not. The Internet will make it easier to have different collections of community and it will provide new games and modes of interaction. But playing bridge with someone in Australia will create no more community than playing bridge in the bridge club down the road or at home. The Internet will make it easier to find scattered people who share your interest perhaps, and this will work as well for the paedophile as a student of alchemy, but you will probably make more intense connections if you meet face-to-face in a physical society.
Technology may help us to solve environmental and energy problems – I certainly hope so. But technology will only really be effective in this sphere when human beings find a right relationship with nature. It is the wrong relationship with nature, not technology, that led to the abuse and destruction of the environment. We didn't care enough when we saw the dying. If we now care enough to want to create technologies to put it right, let us hope that it is because we value nature for itself and not simply to create the next round of control.
So, please read the book for the list of all the things that are likely to be happening – and many of the technologies are either already here or will come, if not when forecast, then before too much longer. But it's down to us what we do with them as to whether they make the world a better place or not. Hyping technology does neither it nor us a service.