Technology Has Failed To Deliver On Its Promises: But Who Is To Blame?
How women can lead the change to reclaim technology's future
Is it fair to suggest that the beatitudes of technology have been equally matched by their abject failures? Aren't we more connected? Able to work, play, communicate, make money, pay bills, and overall manage our lives via the greatest public utility there has ever been? Well, only if it were of true ‘utility’ to all.
How It Started & How It’s Going
Before we could even say AOL, money, influence and power (mostly in the hands of men...) ensured we'd find ourselves where we are today. And that is bemoaning rampant online hate, an easy ‘cancellation’ of others, rife disinformation and great disappointment in even booking the simplest of services (like vaccines) through government websites.
We’ve seen such mind-boggling innovation it’s hard to imagine that the iPhone only launched in 2007. But the path of commercial transformation has monumentally outpaced that of public service innovation. And it’s only been the necessity (thus, opportunity) born of the pandemic that has even fueled investment in historically under-serviced verticals such as edtech and healthcare.
I moved to San Francisco in early 2000. My clients were early days dotcoms and on-their-way darlings of the day, such as Yahoo!. I worked at Netflix and eBay. I helped launch LinkedIn in Europe and grew ShopStyle there too. I saw the wizard behind the curtain. And, with that, the money-grubbing. I witnessed academic elitism, gender bias, ageism, racism and even sexual assault in the workplace.
And while I’m all in for capitalism, I also can’t recall a single decision made by the companies I worked for that helped anyone (unless, of course, ‘helping’ was an easy route to some other success metric).
Whoa, dark. But here's the point...
We Need To Catch Up
Out of the gate, women and governments were mostly sidelined by the dotcom boom. And even after seeing the ‘bubble’ burst in mid-2000, there wasn’t a calibration. Women weren’t any closer to the money. Our girls were not learning to be web developers. And our governments did not demand to come along for the ride so they could get smarter about leveraging technology for their constituents.
And that is why we have story-after-story of bad behavior and exploitation of our goodwill (and for decades now). Our personal data has been used and abused in the name of ‘progress” and we have let it all happen.
Why Catch Up? Well, Robots…
Here in NYC, I’m marveling at the absurdity of broken vaccine appointment websites or unreadable candidate emails (big elections here this year). While at the same time hearing about the pandemic’s healthy contribution to billionaire bank accounts. Or watching big tech companies shirk responsibility for the Jan 6 insurrection in the name of free speech. It’s almost too much to take in.
And if that doesn’t have you riled up…consider how our penchant for Siri, Alexa and every single smart device is being used to learn and replicate our behaviors. (yes, I do mean the creation of robots and no these services aren’t just simply to make our lives easier).
All is, of course, not lost. But women need to recognize the power and influence they wield in ensuring a better, more ethical, fair and connected future. Here are only a few tips:
Stay on top of new technology
We are so busy and doubly-burdened by the pandemic’s requirements. But it’s important to stay curious. Our kids and our friends’ kids are a good start. What are they using? Why? What’s being talked about in the news?
Explore everything. You don’t have to dive right in to understand, say, why Clubhouse has been talked about so much. Or what’s up with our kids’ obsession with Tik Tok. But if we continue to bury our heads we will never get control.
Don’t rely on ‘the guy’
Last year I wrote an article about how many of my small business clients relied on ‘a guy’ to get a website going for them. Often these ‘guys’ charge multiple-times what it ‘should’ cost (especially when self-service platforms are now cheap and prevalent).
It doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself. It does mean you don’t need ‘some guy’ with a computer science degree and a hoodie. Have a play online and you’ll see.
Don’t give a ‘pass’ to poor local services
We must shine a light on how poor our local web-based services are. There are thousands of examples. Below on the left is an email from my local community board (which speaks for itself). The right is a map of vaccination sites. The latter forces you to go location by location to find an appointment. Such a bad user experience that a smart developer, with a day job, created a bot (for free) that thousands have used. We’ve applauded him and yet, how could something so simple and intuitive, NOT have been created by the city? The NYC ‘tech ecosystem’ is, in fact, valued at $147 billion. And yet…? We need to demand better. It does matter.
Women Can Do Anything
It’s not okay that the divide gets larger between what we need to work and what others want to accumulate wealth.
Women are masterful at raising issues, advocating for legislation, signing up voters and creating society-changing movements. This is one that means everything to our future. It’s not outside of your expertise nor can we afford to give anyone a pass. And while it seems like a nice-to-have, it’s not. The chasm will only get wider and we need play a part in redirecting it’s power.
Can you do it? What do you think?