Bulletin 27 July 2018. Technology may be indifferent, but people are not

I’ve written before about the nature of technology to be neither good nor evil: it’s an easy thing to say, a bit like, “guns don’t kill people, people do.” Which is of course true, but guns make it easier. Whether they should be banned is also for people to decide: sometimes we see a certain facility as being too dangerous for public ownership, whereas we shrug and grudgingly accept others. “Cars don’t kill people, people do” is just as true, but nobody but a minority is looking to ban cars on public safety grounds.

Sure, sure, heard it all before. But such justificatory denialism takes place at a much deeper level. One can watch Facebook’s share price plummet as changes its practices, or indeed see similar companies go out of business, at the same time as accepting the platform for what it is. Disdain of social media may be merited, but at the same time, only a minority are switching it off. It’s a conundrum: if we really believe something is bad, why are we so slow to act?

There’s a reason I’m bringing this up. Our corporations are out to maximise the value they give to their shareholders: that’s a fact; so is the reality of social responsibility, green, pink or any other form of washing of the corporate image. So, on the first hand, there’s always going to be a tendency to put business profit over customer value: some take this to an extreme, but basically, if you don’t, you will go out of business. And on the second, by extrapolation, however much an organisation wants to do the right thing, it must first do the profitable thing. 

We might grumble and rail about this, but we all know it can’t be any other way — for many, their jobs depend on it. So what, so what? So, we don’t really get over the hump of finding this a problem unless a real crisis hits: we go with the flow, based on the assumption that more good will happen than bad. 

I have two bees buzzing in my bonnet about this. Today, I spoke to Ali Hadavizadeh, Program Manager at the Farm 491 AgriTech incubator — Ali is passionate about helping new companies innovate, in the name of sustainable and safe food production, and we concurred on how we as an industry and a population have been sleepwalking towards a crisis. Companies that look to maximise profit and deny environmental damage are rightly castigate-able, but we have a tendency to avoid paying too much attention to this…

… and meanwhile, retail organisations have valid reason to be testing all kinds of technology in the name of improving how they engage with customers. I’ve been involved in various recent studies which suggest, first, that the route to ultimate success is about genuine, long-term human loyalty as opposed to “what can we get out of whoever walks though the door”; and that the continuing e-commerce wave distracts from this more idealistic view due to its tendency to cause a race to the bottom. 

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think it has a great deal to do with transparency. GDPR is certainly helping, as it forces organisations to say what they are doing with data (or indeed, change their practices, which is in part the cause of Facebook’s stock fall). It also links back to customer-centric thinking: the best route to profit is to give people what they value the most. One thing’s for sure: we all know what’s going on really, but in the majority of cases, we choose to ignore it as a collective. On our own heads be it, then, when things go wrong. 

Apropos of which, here’s an article for this week. 

Five questions for… the Thinaire platform

As I say in the article, if you want to innovate, you have to stand on the shoulders of anything you can find. In this case, Thinaire brings a bunch of retail-related capabilities to the table: it’s the platform, baby, but then it’s up to retailers, and indeed ourselves, to discern. 

Extra-curricular: Never say never

It’s still Friday as I type this, but I am just back from playing a gig… I’ve just about come to terms with the fact I don’t need to pinch myself to prove it’s happening. More strangely, we seem to have picked up a sizeable audience in Myanmar and the Philippines: without prejudice to the above, we put a quick Facebook ad out to see what happened and were quite astonished by the level of interest. So who knows where that might take us! Meanwhile, here’s us playing Gogol Bordello at a local music festival. And why not. 

Thank you for reading, as always. 


Bulletin 27 July 2018. Technology may be indifferent, but people are not

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