Information Technology: Trick or Treat?
There’s always lots of discussion about populations as they experience the migration from agrarian, through industrial, and to information societies. The migration is typically precipitated by some technology trigger. The steam engine is purported to be the trigger for the migration to the industrial society and information technology the trigger for the migration to the information society. Clearly, we can see the economic and societal benefits of technology. But, is it always a good thing? Sometimes there are unintended consequences.
As a technologist, I of course may have a bias that favors information technology. But, as a CIO, one has to consider the value and benefit that information technology provides for an organization. Just as with the Halloween tradition of trick or treat, we may anticipate the treat of technology candy, but without the requisite benefit and value, we may be tricked into something that proves detrimental to people, processes, and perhaps to society.
Luddites hated technology. But, history suggests that their disdain had more to do with the political ramifications of those technology advancements. In this case, technology was invented that put large masses of people out of work by automating their jobs with the weaving machine. Many people were economically devastated and plunged into poverty, ruin and starvation because of this technology trigger.
Another example, whether fact, fiction, or folklore can be found in discussions surrounding the lost city of Atlantis. Atlanteans were supposed to be a technologically advanced society. Though the legend says those technological benefits provided the means of creating a utopian society, careless use of technology ultimately became the means that brought about the destruction that sent them to the ocean floor.
Some theories attribute ineffective use of technology as a factor that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. The Romans had many technological advances particularly in weapons, engineering and medicine. But, as they continued to grow and expand the empire, they failed to leverage their technology to feed and care for the people in the newly acquired territories.
Today, with Web 2.0 technology such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter we are able to use technology to substitute for face-to-face interactions. We send text messages and email in lieu of human interactions; we are avatars and not flesh and blood; and we have telecommuters and geographically dispersed workers who have minimal person-to-person interactions. As humans, we experience things with all of our senses. Overuse or over reliance on this technology tempts us to forget our humanity – sincerity, love, honesty … mercy – these feelings are not transmitted by mere emoticons. And technology has not (yet) provided the means of smelling the sweet aroma of the rose or feeling the warmth of a loving embrace.
As a service provider, I had a major lapse in customer service that required a serious apology. We were able to repair the situation and restore the faith of our customers, but it required getting on a plane, and facing the irate customers face-to-face with a simple message – I’m sorry. Then and only then, were we able to rebuild trust to get us past our egregious mistake.
The trick or treat here is not that technology is bad or good. But, if we ask for the treat from our technology “candy”, we might get tricked into some unintended consequences. Keeping an eye on those potential consequences and perhaps learning from history can help us understand limitations or dangers and avoid detrimental outcomes.
Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA