Tech: Think Past Desired Outcomes

2014 12 15   Peter Feinstein   Media and Regualtion    

There is so much to write about the unintended consequences of technology.

I love that the conversation about technology and the thinking, or lack thereof, behind it has entered our consciousnesses, and that we’re having an intelligent discussion about it. Last month, Canadian consultant Gordon Hotchkiss posted a great follow-up to an earlier commentary by New Zealand entrepreneur Kaila Cobin. He made some great points, to which I’d add some of my own relative to technology and the human experience.

Typically, human beings focus on outcomes and work assiduously to make those reality. Yet it never seems to work out just that way. There are unforeseen consequences, more so than unintended. These are things about which no thought was entertained because we – human beings, using the tiny little power of our egos – can hardly see past our own narrow thinking. Trust me, our thinking is so very little. The proof is in all the unforeseen consequence that litter our lives, so aptly described by Hotchkiss’ story about the Yir-Yoront tribe of Australia.

We do, however, manage to produce technology capable of doing far more than we can understand, and certainly more than we can manage. If we cannot see what’s coming, yet we know that the technology we deploy makes for largely unmanageable situations, shouldn’t we be spending more time thinking about its consequences, so that at least we can map out some of what might happen?

The process of actually contemplating other outcomes can be very powerful. Say we each asked ourselves the question: “Is there another possible way of looking at this?” The honest answer would have to be “yes, of course.” And that’s why we, as human beings, must do the legwork of identifying other possible consequences of the technology we so blithely roll out.