We’ve all seen it – couples, families, groups of friends out at a cafe or restaurant … ignoring each other, and staring at their phones instead. This behaviour isn’t unusual. It’s normal – to the point we barely notice it any more.
Technology is everywhere, embedded into every aspect of our lives. Of course there are benefits, but we need to be aware of the downsides and dangers. As tech develops, we need to make sure it does so in ways that facilitate human flourishing.
Unfortunately, many industries have a disgraceful history in this area. It is well documented that both tobacco and oil companies deliberately executed decades-long campaigns of denial, doubt, and delaying tactics, to avoid taking responsibility for the damage their products have done – and continue to do.
Recent evidence from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, along with the work of organisations like Check My Ads and The Consilience Project, show that this behaviour is being repeated in Big Tech. Focusing on metrics – more likes, more shares, more ads, more money – is leading to products and services that are harming individuals and society.
How do we change this?
By prioritising values. We need to judge success not by profits, but by our values.
It’s tempting to hide behind the idea that technology is neutral – “it’s just a tool”. But this simply isn’t true, as the Centre for Humane Technology make clear in their excellent [free] online course. The choices we make are a result of our attitudes, opinions and bias, and everything we create is a reflection of those beliefs. The things we care about show up in the work we do in the world.
Challenges at this scale can feel overwhelming. The temptation is to ignore it: “I’m just one person – what can I do?” But we can all make a difference, and it starts with thinking about how we want to show up in the world. What do we care about? What do we stand for? What values do our products and services enable in society?
Values matter in all sectors – but tech is at a crucial point. It impacts every one of us, every single day. People working in technology companies have the opportunity – the power – to influence that impact in the coming weeks, months and years.
Our decisions make a difference. Our choices matter.
Let’s decide to choose wisely.