How technology is useful to society?
12 truths about technology everyone should know
Today, technology matters more than ever, profoundly influencing culture, politics and society. Given the amount of time we spend with our gadgets and apps, it’s important to understand the principles of how technology affects our lives.
Technology is not an industry, it is a cultural and economical way of changing existing systems and institutions. This can be a little hard to understand if we only think of technology as a set of consumer goods that we buy.
But technology is about much more than the phones in our hands, and if we’re going to make the right decisions about the way technology companies shape our lives, and especially if we want to influence those who actually create technology, we have to understand some aspects of society. Fundamental shift.
Here, we’ll identify some key principles that can help us understand technology’s place in culture.
What you need to know is:
1. Technology is not neutral
Here’s the most important thing everyone should know about the apps and services they use: the values of tech creators are deeply rooted in every button, link and glowing icon we see.
Choices made by software developers on design, technology architecture, or business model can have profound effects on our privacy, security, and even our civil rights as users.
When software encourages us to take square photos instead of rectangular ones, or put an always-on microphone in our living room, or make our bosses reachable at all times, it not only changes our behavior, it changes our life.
All the changes that happen in our lives when we use new technologies happen according to the priorities and preferences of those who create them.
2. Technology is not inevitable
Popular culture portrays consumer technology as a never-ending upward spiral of things that make everyone’s life better. In fact, new technology products often involve a series of trade-offs, where improvements in areas such as usability or design come with weaknesses in areas such as privacy and security.
Sometimes new technologies are better for one community and worse for others. Most importantly, just because a technology is “better” in some way doesn’t guarantee that it will be widely adopted, nor that it will lead to improvements in other, more popular technologies.
In fact, technological progress is much like evolution in the biological world: there are various dead ends, regressions, or unbalanced trade-offs along the way, even as we see widespread progress over time.
3. Most people in tech really want to do good
We can be thoughtful and critical of modern technology products and companies without believing that most of the people who create technology are “bad.” I’ve met tens of thousands of hardware and software developers around the world, and I can attest that their “cliches” of wanting to make the world a better place are sincere.
Tech creators are serious about making a positive impact. At the same time, it is important for those who create technology to understand that good intentions do not absolve them of responsibility for the negative consequences of their work, no matter how well intentioned they may be.
4. Technology history is poorly documented and understood
People who learn to create technology can often find out every detail of how their favorite programming language or device was created, but it’s often impossible to know why certain technologies thrive, or which ones don’t.
While we are still in the early days of the computer revolution, with many pioneers still working hard to create today’s technology, we often find that the history of technology years ago has been erased.
Why did your favorite app succeed while others failed? What failed previous attempts? What problems did these apps encounter — or what problems did they cause? When we create myths around today’s biggest tech giants Which creators or innovators were erased from the story?
All of these questions are glossed over, silenced, or sometimes deliberately wrongly answered in favor of building a story of slick, seamless, inescapable progress in the tech world. Now, this isn’t unique to technology — almost every industry can point to similar issues. But this ahistorical view of the technological world can also have serious consequences when today’s technological creators fail to learn from those who came before them.
5. Most technical education does not include ethics training
In established disciplines such as law or medicine, where we often see centuries of learning incorporated into professional curricula, there is a clear requirement for moral education. Now, it’s hard to stop moral transgressions from happening — we can see highly unethical people in powerful positions today going to top business schools to proudly peddle their vaunted ethics programs.
But until the recent backlash against some of the worst excesses in tech, little progress had been made in incorporating ethics education into technical training. There are still few programs aimed at improving the moral knowledge of those already in the workforce; continuing education is largely focused on acquiring new technical skills rather than social ones.
There is no silver bullet for this problem. It would be too simplistic to think that having computer scientists work more closely with liberal arts students would significantly address these ethical concerns. But it is clear that if technologists are to continue to command the broad public support they currently enjoy, they must deal with ethical issues swiftly and skillfully.
6. Technology is often built without knowing anything about its users
Society’s respect for the tech industry has grown considerably over the past few decades, but this often leads to seeing the people who create it as foolproof.
Tech creators are now often seen as authorities on a wide range of fields, including media, transportation, infrastructure and political policy — even if they have no background in those fields. Knowing how to make an Apple app doesn’t mean you know an industry you’ve never been in!
The best and most thoughtful tech creators engage deeply and genuinely with the communities they want to help, to ensure they meet real needs, rather than indiscriminately “disrupting” the way existing systems work.
But sometimes new technologies run amok in these communities, and the people who develop them have enough financial and social resources that their methods are flawed, but that doesn’t stop them from destabilizing the ecosystem.
Often times, technology creators have enough money to fund them that they don’t even notice the negative effects of design flaws, especially when they are isolated from the people affected by those flaws.
Making all this worse is the problem of integration into the tech industry, which means that many of the most vulnerable groups have little or no representation on the teams creating new technologies, leaving those teams with little awareness of how important it is to those on the fringes. may be a particularly important concern.
7. No great technology was created by a single genius
In popular culture, one of the most popular representations of technological innovation is the genius in the dorm room or garage who comes up with groundbreaking innovations. It feeds a common myth created by people like Steve Jobs: that a man gets credit for “inventing the iPhone.” However, the iPhone is the work of thousands of people.
In fact, technology is always guided by the insights and values of the community of its creator, and nearly every moment of breakthrough is followed by years or decades of others trying to create similar products.
The “lone creator” myth is especially damaging because it exacerbates the problem of exclusion plaguing the tech industry as a whole; those who are portrayed by the media as lone geniuses rarely come from as diverse a background as people in real society.
The media may benefit from being able to award or recognize individuals, or educational institutions may be incentivized to create myths about individuals in order to enjoy the glory they reflect, but the true story of creation is complex and involves many people. We should be strongly skeptical of any claims to the contrary.
8. Most technology doesn’t come from startups
Only 15% of programmers work at startups, and at many large tech companies, the majority of employees aren’t even programmers. So defining technology by the habits or culture of programmers working at well-known startups seriously distorts the image of technology in society. Instead, we should consider that most of the people who create technology work in organizations or institutions that we don’t think of as “technology” at all.
Additionally, there are many independent tech companies — small independent shops or mom-and-pop businesses that make websites, apps, or custom software — and many of the most talented programmers prefer the culture or challenges of these organizations over the more famous tech giants. We shouldn’t dismiss the fact that startups are only a small part of technology, nor should we allow the extreme culture of many startups to distort the overall perception of technology.
9. There are only three ways most big tech companies make money
If you want to know why tech works the way it does, it’s important to understand how tech companies make money.
Nearly all of Google’s and Facebook’s revenue comes from selling your information to advertisers. Almost every product they create is designed to extract as much information as possible from you so that it can be used to create a more detailed picture of your behavior and preferences.
Advertisers’ search results and social feedback are strongly incentivized to push you toward sites or apps that show more ads on those platforms. It’s a business model built on surveillance that’s especially compelling because it’s what most consumer internet businesses rely on.
Larger tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle exist to make money from other big companies that need business software, but pay a premium if the software is easy to manage and lock down how employees use it. Very little of this technology is pleasant, especially since its customers are obsessed with controlling and monitoring their workers, but these companies are some of the most profitable companies in technology.
Companies like Apple and Amazon want you to pay directly for their products or what other people sell in their stores. It’s one of the easiest things when you buy an iPhone or a Kindle, or subscribe to Spotify, you know exactly what you’re getting, and because it doesn’t rely on ads or cede control of the purchase to your employer, having this Companies with this model tend to be those in which individuals have the most power.
That’s it. Almost every tech company is trying to do one of these three things, and you can understand why they made a certain choice by seeing how it relates to the three business models.
10. The economic model of big corporations distorts all technology
Today, big tech companies generally follow a simple formula:
1) Make an interesting or useful product to change a large market;
2) Get a lot of money from venture capitalists;
3) Try to increase the number of users quickly, even if it means losing a lot of money temporarily;
4) Figure out how to convert this large audience into a business that will generate strong returns for investors;
5) Start aggressively competing with (or acquiring) other competitive companies in the market
This model is very different from how we think of traditional growth companies. Traditional companies start out as small businesses that grow primarily by attracting customers who pay directly for goods or services. Companies with this new model can grow bigger and faster than older companies that relied on paying customer revenue growth. But these new companies are also much less accountable to the markets they enter, because they serve the short-term interests of investors rather than the long-term interests of users or communities.
The ubiquity of this business plan makes it nearly impossible for companies without venture capital to compete. The average company that grows by making money from customers can’t afford to lose that much money over a long period of time.
It’s not a level playing field, which often means companies are either stuck in small independent endeavors or giant monsters with little in between. The end result looks a lot like the film industry, with small independent arthouse films and superhero blockbusters, and nothing else.
What’s the biggest cost to these big start-up tech companies? Hiring programmers. They put the vast majority of their investment dollars into hiring and retaining the programmers who will build their new technology platforms. Of these huge sums of money, only a tiny fraction is invested in serving the community or otherwise. Creating a great value company doesn’t mean creating lots of jobs for many different types of people.
11. Fashion is as important as function in tech
Creating an application or device may appear to an outsider to be a hyperrational process, with engineers choosing technologies based on what is most advanced and best suited to the task.
In fact, the choice of something like a programming language or toolkit may depend on the whim of a particular programmer or manager, or whatever is popular. The process or method of technology creation tends to follow fads or trends, affecting everything from conference operations to product development.
Sometimes people who create technology seek novelty, and sometimes they want to go back to staples of their tech wardrobe, but these choices are influenced by social factors in addition to objective technical value assessments.
More complex technology doesn’t always equate to a more valuable end product, so while many companies like to brag about how ambitious or advanced their new technologies are, that’s no guarantee they’ll provide more value to the average user, especially is when new technology inevitably brings new flaws and unintended side effects.
12. No institution has the power to curb tech abuse
In most industries, if companies start doing wrong or exploiting consumers, they are restrained, such as journalists investigating and criticizing their actions. Then, if the violations continue and become serious enough, the companies could be sanctioned by lawmakers at the local, state, governmental or international level.
Yet today, much of the tech industry press is focused on the launch of new products or new versions of existing products, and those tech journalists who report on tech’s significant societal impact are often relegated to publishing alongside new phone reviews rather than on business or culture. featured prominently in the report.
While that has begun to change as tech companies have become insanely rich and powerful, the culture of media companies still limits news coverage.
Traditional business journalists have often worked in mainstream media for years, but are often ignorant of basic technical concepts, which is unimaginable for a reporter covering finance or law. Meanwhile, professional tech journalists, who may be more aware of tech’s impact on culture, are often assigned (or inclined) to cover product announcements rather than broader civic or social issues.
There is a more serious problem. Think about our regulators and elected officials, many of whom routinely boast that they know nothing about technology. Political leaders can’t even install an app on a smartphone that makes it incomprehensible enough to regulate the technology properly, or assign legal responsibility when the creators of the technology break the law. Even as technology brings new challenges to society, lawmakers are still far behind the technology when it comes to enacting appropriate laws.
Without the corrective power of journalistic coverage and legislative accountability, tech companies often operate as if they are completely unregulated, and the real-world consequences of this often fall on those outside of tech. Worse, traditional activists who rely on traditional methods such as boycotts or protests often find themselves ineffective, as Big Tech’s indirect business models can rely on advertising or surveillance (“collecting user data”) or venture capital investment to keep operating, Even activists can effectively spot problems.
Lack of accountability is one of the biggest challenges facing tech today.
If we understand these things, we can make technology better.
If everything is so complicated, and so many important points about technology are not obvious, should we give up hope? Nope.
Once we understand the forces shaping technology, we can start driving change. If we know that the biggest cost to tech giants is attracting and hiring programmers, we can encourage programmers to collectively advocate for the moral and social progress of their employers.
If we know that investors in large companies respond to potential risks in the market, we can emphasize that their investments are riskier if they bet on companies that are socially harmful.
If we understand that most people in the tech industry are well-intentioned but lack the historical or cultural context to ensure their impact is as good as their intentions, we can ensure they have the knowledge they need to prevent harm before it happens.
Many of us who create technology, or love the way it empowers us and improves our lives, struggle with the many negative impacts these technologies have on society. But if we start with a common set of principles that help us understand how technology really works, we might be able to start solving technology’s biggest problems.