I’m a natural pessimist and cynic. I know that and, if you follow me on any kind of social media, you probably know that too. For a while now it’s meant that I’m pretty down on a lot of technology, new and old. I tend to rant on everything from my most basic hardware to the software I use and the services I access because, as a good cynic, I tend to agree that all technology is shit.
If your tech isn’t spying on you it’s probably designed to be obsolete quickly or has all the stability of your average earthquake fault line and that, to me, is a problem. While tech has absolutely changed our lives my contention is that it isn’t always for the better. Tech has been responsible, at least in part, for a lot of the major problems we face in the world today from the decline of democracy to climate change and more.
For all my issues with tech, though, I do believe there is room for good tech in this world. It starts with recognizing the fact that technology, of any kind, is not neutral when it comes to human rights and politics and its inherent bias must be dealt with at every level of our society.
From transportation to the internet and from smart devices to our phones tech should work for us, those buy and need it and not simply as a data collection device to funnel money to the wealthy and sell all of us ever more products we don’t need and solutions to problems we don’t have.
What does this look like in practice? I think it takes a few forms:
First, we need to own our data. This means that not only can it not be deleted by someone else but we must have control over the rights as to how it is used including for advertising and other purposes. At a high level this means getting rid surveillance capitalism but at a lower level it’s more than that. We need solutions designed for the commons, not for profit and we need those solutions to define those who use them as people, not “users.”
Next we need software and hardware that is designed to last. There’s no reason it should be considered normal to replace all the devices we have every few years and, where knew tech is available, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to upgrade our existing devices without replacing all of what already works. Complex devices might not be able to last a lifetime but it shouldn’t be for lack of trying. From right to repair to a culture that prides only the “new” we need to rethink our relationship with tech and use that tech to solve real problems we each have, not just ones ad companies tell us we have.
Finally we need to rethink our infrastructure and habits as to what it means to be a person in our modern world. This includes communities made for people, not cars and a travel and tourism industry designed for real exploration, not as the preferred alternatives to ever being in our homes. So much of the tech we made is designed to enhance our travel experience and, in many ways, create the need for travel in the first place. This isn’t sustainable. We need to instead invest in communities where people want to live, not just to sleep when they can’t be somewhere better.
Taken together I would say tech needs to focus on us as humans and communities of humans, not on the data we represent to sell us ever-more. As we focus on each other we need to remember that a human lives for 70+ years and that many of our associated problems last nearly as long and cannot be adequately addressed by solutions designed to last only a couple of years.
This isn’t a small undertaking, I realize, but it is a necessary shift if we’re to ever live in a world where technology is, ideally, focused on helping us all as humans and not just the mega-corporations that build it.