I was at a conference this week – very conveniently held at Dillington – which was all about business, innovation and information technology. Specifically, it was themed around the opportunities given by superfast broadband (coming to Somerset in the next couple of years), Facebook, Cloud Computing (whatever that is), Twitter, social networking etc. We heard from IBM’s Dr David Watson about the way in which computing is becoming more ‘intelligent’ and, akin to the knowledge spaghetti in our brains, it will soon be able to untangle the mass of data collected by machines. Very scary I thought. Soon computers will be saying ‘no’ just like the computer in Little Britain. Perhaps the most interesting contribution came from Professor John Bessant of Exeter University Business School. He was able to give an overview of how new technology was changing the world in which we work and was able to describe how networks were becoming critical to business success. Linkages and networks were the future according to John. The old way of doing business was redundant – well almost.
What was remarkable about the day (which was genuinely interesting) was the gaping fault line in the room between the sceptics (me included) and the enthusiasts. Unfortunately, this divide was not really discussed as I suspect it wasn’t anticipated. Anyway, the notion that we should surrender ourselves and our businesses to the fashion of the latest technology is, in my view, clearly unwise. This stuff is mostly untried and it is certainly is not a panacea for all businesses and not even a particularly useful tool for some. Indeed, when you think about the world of Twitter and tweets then any serious person must wonder whether the world has gone mad. Like the Tower of Babel everybody is chattering, nobody is listening and nobody can understand. Awful. I think we are in danger of dumbing down what is important and trivialising a world worthy of serious discourse and thought. Like the rise in celebrity culture which has become all pervasive, we are in danger of sleepwalking into life lived vicariously though technology, its creators and controllers. It seems to me that what we need is a serious critical debate and not generalised promises and threats. One speaker, who shall remain nameless, even endorsed the view that you would not have a business if you didn’t embrace the world of social networking. I could audibly hear a Victor Meldrew mutter when those words were said…after the gasps had died down.
Now, what I have said above, is not to say these emergent technologies and their application do not have a place in the world of business or in other aspects of our lives. They certainly do, but what I want to argue for is a sense of perspective and a new realism born from the ethical standpoint that people matter more than technology. The brave new world of the future needs to be populated with ideas that make us happy not just more technology to clutter our lives and confuse our sense of purpose and humanity.
These issues are important and I need to thank Somerset County Council and the University of Plymouth for organising something so stimulating and scary at the same time!