People are complex. Society is complex. Society is a complex and evolving ecosystem.
Within an ecosystem, any change, including change enabled by technology will force the ecosystem to adapt. This adaption will then adapt again and evolve as peoples’ behaviour adapts to the change, and the technology then evolves to meet the changed expectations … and this continues. So introducing technology into a human ecosystem is unpredictable.
So given this, why do we think that we can predict the impact of affecting this ecosystem. Why do we think we can predict how technology will impact society?
But that is what we continue to do. Whether with new products, new services or any technology idea. We think because we understand how it affects us, we think that everyone will feel and behave the same. Wrong. It seems obvious, but we keep doing it. It isn’t restricted to technology companies either. Governments continually trumpet the benefits of technology without really considering that firstly that it might not work, but it also might have (unexpected) negative outcomes.
What we can do is understand what may be possible. What could be achieved. This is not the same is believing that it will happen though. A seasoned technologist (there must be a better name for a battle scarred old bugger) knows this and will guide people accordingly, but companies and governments in search of quick fixes (lets call them silver bullets) too often see technology as a panacea to all ills without realising that it also brings risks. Things can go wrong and often do.
But what we do we hear?
“Technology will solve our problems”.
It might … but it might not.
So what is the solution?
Embrace complexity. Embrace dynamism and uncertainty.
So what does work?
Start small, expect to change, expect to learn, expect to evolve. This is not rocket science, but you will be amazed that after 50/60 years of computing we are still making basic mistakes. Our passion for technology (which is good), blinds us to the fact that ecosystems are dynamic systems and need to be managed with sensitivity.
So perhaps instead of pushing our computing students to read about the latest programming languages, pushing them to emulate Jobs and co. we should be instead learning from other disciplines and trying to understand what we can learn from history. Can I recommend a good starting point, “Human Systems are Different” by Geoffrey Vickers from 1983. Hardly an antique, but the title says it all.