Asking for directions can get you lost

Thanks to GPS we seldom get lost these days. This is a good thing. Occasionally we discover that roads are closed or no longer exist, or perhaps they exist but are not on the GPS service you are using. In short, sometimes technology fails us. But it is not the fault of technology –it is the fault of how we approach innovation.

Over the past 20-30 years we have become increasingly dependent on technology for everyday tasks. But what effect has this had on our capabilities as individuals? Outsourcing our pain points, much like outsourcing positions in a company to a country with low labour costs can work well for all involved, or it can mean a shift of competence that makes local workers redundant. Of course, outsourcing can fail miserably too for a myriad of reasons – not least cultural clashes and lack of understanding. The same is true of technology.

Technology development for the sake of technology should be criminalised. Just because it can be developed does not mean that it should be. Technology has enslaved us, rendering us incapable of finding information and making our own decisions. Instead, we outsource to algorithms and anonymous search engines and social media sites in the hope of finding answers to the world’s problems. It is as close as imaginable to navel-gazing.

Where once technology was developed to support and improve our way of life, we now find it eroding our abilities and coercing us into pre-defined social constructs that we have not thought through, much less agreed to (even though you accept all terms and conditions automatically and without reading them by default).

Most of what we call technology today is merely a result of incremental steps in the development of something that was invented decades ago. True innovation is taking knowledge of a problem that exists and solving it in a new and, dare I say, innovative way.

But before we innovate, we must decide what problem we are attempting to solve and do a lifecycle analysis of how it stacks up as a solution versus the problem it is meant to address. This rarely happens. Most innovation is based on projected quarterly profit margins and market penetration – not on problem-solving. This needs to change.

The impetus for innovation should not be solely motivated by profit, but by improvement of our socio-economic and environmental systems. Following the money is what got us to where we are today. It is not sustainable.

You are probably reading this on your phone, so I’ll try to keep this piece relatively brief. How often have you felt lost without your phone in your pocket? You rely on it for messaging, reference, entertainment, recommendations, news and let’s not forget shopping… Some people even use their phones to talk to other people – but that is becoming rarer by the day. Instead, we have words offered to us by messaging apps that deign to suggest they know what we want to say and how we wish to say it. To quote one of my favourite poets, William Wordsworth…

Written in London. September, 1802

O Friend! I know not which way I must look
For comfort, being, as I am, opprest,
To think that now our life is only drest
For show; mean handy-work of craftsman, cook,
Or groom! — We must run glittering like a brook
In the open sunshine, or we are unblest:
The wealthiest man among us is the best:
No grandeur now in nature or in book
Delights us. Rapine, avarice, expense,
This is idolatry; and these we adore:
Plain living and high thinking are no more:
The homely beauty of the good old cause
Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,
And pure religion breathing household laws.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.