With the world flooded with toxic, attention-grabbing software that is specifically designed to divert your attention and emotions, it’s easy to become very cynical about the place mobile devices and software play in people’s lives. However, as with everything, there are good sides and bad sides to things such as technology and software.
The challenge is not just to ignore what’s going on around us or decide that we should smash it all. That didn’t end well for the luddites and nor will it end well for a rejection of technology. This is just disconnected from the reality of the digital world, and whilst it might be a lot of fun to smash a few servers with a sledgehammer every now and then, it doesn’t really help much over the long-term.
Instead, the challenge is to build a more human element into technology. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ I hear your cry! ‘We don’t want human robots!’ No, actually I agree with you on that too. We definitely don’t want human looking robots. That just opens up so many questionable moral issues that falsely suggests human-like characteristics. Whilst it can be fun to imagine a sentient being created out of digital circuit boards, this is still just a computer with as many real human qualities as Kermit the Frog has and every other talking animal on TV.
What do we need and want? As a software developer, I believe we have a moral obligation to develop software that improves our ability to be human and build relationships, not disconnect and filter them, which seems to be the fashion of the tech world right now. Therefore, it’s important than any new platform or feature should consider the human impact. What will the end result be for the users? Is it going to help, hinder, or completely manipulate them?
We should be looking for cool ways in which we can leverage technology to benefit others and not to just benefit marketing companies or venture capitalists. At the end of the day, digital technologies allow us to create massive advantages for humanity as a whole. They bring people out of poverty, eliminate pointless repetitive tasks and enable a whole new level of attention to detail and personalised service. Why not focus our energies on looking for ways to improve experiences through software? Time, which is everyone’s most expensive and limited resource, can be better spent with friends, family and being part of a real community with real people, which has kept our societies going for thousands of years.
One of the things we built into our software platform was reminders to check on students who have been sick or injured. Sure, it’s another notification on your phone, of which there are many. However, what’s the impact of this? On a busy day, you get a reminder to check up on a student. You go and check up on the student, see how he or she is feeling and if there’s anything else you can do to help that student. What impact have you just had on the student’s day? What positive feelings are left about your care and concern for the student?
This is something I believe is critically important to the design of all systems. What is the end result going to be? What positive human impact have we helped to facilitate? I also noticed this on a flight recently. It was a long-haul flight from Sydney to the UK. One of the stewards came up to me to chat. He knew my name, but called me Mr Gregory, which was nice, but completely unnecessary. He asked how the flight was going and if he could get anything else for me before we landed. Again, this is clever use of software to help facilitate the positive experience for someone on a 23 hour flight. This makes flying from A to B a slightly less stressful and far better experience as the human touch of relationship-building and individual care and management was leveraged through smart and appropriate use of technology.
The more we can build systems like these to assist us in being better humans and remind us to take the time to talk with others and help them out, the better the situation. I should also highlight at this point that it’s not just about ticking a box. The person using the technology must also have the skills and demeanour to genuinely care and about those being helped. Technology is just a useful means through which what people do is able to be improved and enhanced.
Before we take the sledgehammer to the server room to try and recapture life as we knew it, it’s worth considering the benefit of responsible and ethical software development. The digital world is here to stay. At least it is until someone blows everything up and the planet gets over-run by apes who somehow learn how to speak English and enslave humanity. Anyway, until that happens, how can we develop better use technology that enables us to leverage all the positive traits of humanity to support us in being part of a real community and allow us to spend less time ‘online’ and more time thoughtfully engaged in real human activities with real people? What is it in your job, your workplace or industry that could leverage such an approach and embrace the use of technology to help improve the human connections? This is the challenge and the responsibility of software developers. Build something that’s useful and helps people in their lives to better connect with others. Spend time saved by technology with others and not just drowning in a bottomless sea of shallow likes.
Let’s build something useful and real. If nothing else, at least it’ll keep the apes at bay for a few more years.