Digital Readiness? We’re Not Even Close – Forbes
Instead of writing about Apple, Google, Amazon or IBM, and in lieu of writing about cryptocurrencies and other digital technologies, I thought Iâd write about some trends that affect us all, even if weâre more interested in what technology is doing for us than to us.
This is not about the iPhone 28 or how easy it is to experience streaming content on our mobile devices. This is about stepping back and assessing some good and bad trends, and about assessing social, economic and political trajectories we seldom ponder. âTechnologistsâ seldom ask the tough questions about social impact â for obvious reasons. So letâs ask some questions and offer some (partial) answers about the technological society in which we now live.
Good Tech, Bad Tech
First, letâs acknowledge that the pace of technology change and the rapid adoption of emerging technology represents amazing social, economic and political progress. We love the way we communicate, pay bills, geo-locate transportation and travel, and consume content on smartphones and other always-on devices. We love social media and how we buy stuff with one click. Super storms cannot threaten our precious pictures, videos or documents when theyâre stored in the cloud.
So whatâs the problem? The distance between digital joy and pain is widening. Letâs start with how easy it is to create and disseminate fake news and âalternative facts.â We now know that fake social media accounts were created during the last presidential election and deliberately used to create and disperse lies, distortions and misinformation. (No, the Pope did not endorse Trump.) This was all way too easy to do and will obviously happen again (and again and again). We know that data breaches now occur on a regular basis, and that millions of credit card numbers are all over the web. We know the legal system has no idea what to do with complex digital evidence, such as what Alexa hears all day, and that creeping automation will continue to displace workers who need aggressive re-training â which seldom, if ever, arrives on time. We know that digital business models like sharing (Airbnb) and transportation (Uber, Lyft) will continue to disrupt traditional business models in banking, real estate and insurance, among other industries, and that it will take no time at all for cryptocurrency to enable almost everything. Self-driving cars, trucks, boats and planes are coming. Self-inflicted accidents will follow. Drones will save lives. They will also threaten them. Phishing is still alive and well; ransomware is growing. Access to the Internet â the quintessential digital portal â is tightening: like healthcare, everyone must pay for it (unless they want to live at Starbucks or the Panera Bread Company), and, like healthcare, the price is going up. Those with the most money can buy the best access. ISPs can also now sell browser data. (By the way, how is everyone feeling about privacy these days?) Data is spread across the global cloud in locations we cannot name, and itâs âsharedâ only with the good guys â right? (Experian now offers a service to see if your personal data is for sale on the dark web.) Does Facebook and Google really provide âthe newsâ for most Americans? While frightening, it appears to be true.
Technology is amazing, exciting and makes us incredibly productive. Itâs also a massive money machine for an industry that dominates wealth creation: digital technology is the new military-industrial complex. Technology is pervasive and fun â and addictive, which makes it a phenomenal business model. âWin/winâ â for some â doesnât even begin to describe the trends and opportunities weâre witnessing in real-time.
Are we ready for all this? Gathering cell phones in a basket before dinner is not readiness. Thereâs a widening gap between what technology does for us and what it does to us. Thereâs also a gap between how we understand and frame the differences. Politicians know virtually nothing about digital technology. They avoid discussing âITâ whenever they can, which is easy because hardly anyone ever asks about the relationship between society and technology. Aside from the occasional âspecial,â the mainstream and fringe media rarely ask, write or report anything about technologyâs role in the world, save an obsession with technology leaders (and their personal wealth), gadgets and stocks. Thereâs an occasional academic conference on âthe technological societyâ and lots of bloggers with small platforms. Occasionally professors publish on mainstream websites, like this one.