A recent book by ex-Microsoft researcher and now MIT prof Kentaro Toyama (Geek Heresy, 20015) is not precisely novel on the topic of blindly accepting technology as the solution for all evils, but it is a refreshing account of what has been a personal journey.
Sent by Microsoft to India to solve social problems via technology, he ended up showing the shortcomings of the technology and the need to focus on the human side.
‘The only conclusion I could come to is that technology is secondary – ultimately the people and the institutions matter most’.
Which is the kind of statement that triggers on us a big ‘of course’, although we carry on as before ignoring its consequences and with zero behavioural change.
Amongst other things he points to the lack of critical thinking on this banking on technology and the urgent need to review our digital world.
In day to day management, more and more time is devoted to a digital system of communication and collaboration. Years ago we would have referred mainly to email, spending most of the time on Information Traffic Management, and management itself being a glorified form of Information Traffic Warden role. In places where email is now progressively taken over by digital chatting of some sort, perhaps via Enterprise Social Networks and other forms of collaborative systems, the new digital is now a form of, very useful, more appealing benign dictatorship.
Management remains an analogue affair. It’s human interaction, person to person, no scree to screen. If we lose analogue human social-ability in favour of the digitalization of our humanity, we will loose part of us and, in the process, the chance to involve the whole of our emotional and intellectual beings in that kind of activity that we call ‘work’.
Creativity manuals often suggest having two desks: the analogue, with no computers and the digital, with the screen in front of us. The trick is more than a clever suggestion. It actually transforms the way you work and interact. Most workstations, or offices, today look like places to hang a screen, often situated in front of us, not just ‘on the side’. The invitation to collaborate comes to us digital. The shortcut and default is to email back, as opposed to, say, pick up the phone, let alone move your back side and visit the originator of the email down the corridor.
So, yes, have two desks. And force meetings with no devices in the room. I’m afraid that having them ‘in the room’ remains a problem: people will check, will use, will have it in silence and will continue to reply to emails.
Declare management interaction (discussion, debate, exploring of possibilities) a brain-to-brain affair with no digital intermediaries. The issue is not one of blaming the technology. The problem is our addiction to the instant messaging and the instant world.
Decouple digital and analogue. Each world is different. Protect both, protect their dedicated times, don’t mix them up. It works.
(A system problem prevented the Daily Thought from being published yesterday)