Could digital unrest be the catalyst causing increased social and political disruption? Everyone sees their world view through a lens of their own construction, and I am certainly guilty of the same. As the owner of a technology company, I often see how the digital revolution can act as a polarizing force within the companies we work with, so, it is only natural that I see it as contributing factor to broader social disruption. Identifying digital trends and exploring both their direct and indirect impact is a required survival skill in my line of work. And so, it is from this vantage point that I draw my conclusions.
Think about your average workday – After an hour in traffic, you arrive at work blurry-eyed and behind from the previous day with a full list of to-dos. You turn on your computer and the dreaded all too familiar message appears – UPDATING. The phone rings, you are called into an impromptu meeting where you learn about the roll-out of a new piece of software. The intent, of course, is to make you and the company more efficient. Your assignment, attend the training to learn this new efficiency tool and then begin the process of redesigning the department’s workflow to accommodate this latest version of progress.
The meeting over and back at your desk, you discover your computer is still – UPDATING. Enough, time for Plan B, you reach for your smartphone to check your email and you are distracted by the newsfeed. The headline, “An estimated 50% US workers will be displaced by some form of automation over the next twenty-years”. Seeking some good news, you move to the next article only to be reminded that, “Internet service providers are watching your every move” – You are being tracked. The phone rings, it’s your boss wondering why you have not responded to his/her latest urgent email request. At this point, the urge to scream and throw your computer out the window is palpable, but you tamp-down this impulse and walk into your boss’s office with a smile on your face to respond in person.
The experience in our personal lives is no better. With endless passwords to remember, websites to get locked out of, and countless security threats, the tension and disruption fatigue builds. At a minimum, continuous technical change is exhausting and frustrating. Coupled with the emergence of robotics and artificial intelligence, the thought of being replaced by a machine has moved from science fiction to reality and from fascinating to terrifying.
Frustration can turn into fear and fear often transforms into anger, perhaps even rage. You can’t yell at your boss, you don’t want to yell at your family and kicking the family pet is just wrong. But someone is to blame and it might as well be someone with a different opinion, a different nationality or even a different religion – The lens you have constructed is being transformed.
I am not putting social responsibility on the shoulders of technology. Anger has always preferred the path of least resistance and these shortcuts to blame have existed in society for millennia. I am simply stating that the negative emotions resulting from this digital unrest are acting as a catalyst, bringing underlining social tension boiling to the surface. And for many it is easy to view longstanding social and economic foes as bearing responsibility for being the cause of their pain. But the reality is that everyone is fighting the same invisible force; the chaos of the digital revolution.
Unfortunately, I cannot offer a solution to the challenge this post identifies, but perhaps identifying the source of our discomfort is a start. Maybe, if we can acknowledge that we are disrupted, exhausted and more than a little pissed-off about the uncertainty that lies ahead, we can begin to correct our individual response. It is undeniable that we are headed towards a future that we cannot predict, but one that we all will help to shape. Our most important contribution going forward will be a positive and creative attitude. After all, we create the world through a lens of our own construction.