Is New Tech Always a Sign of Progress?

As we’ve mentioned previously, we’re big fans of The Financial Times. Our favorite English language newspaper, and if you don’t subscribe, we recommend you do.

Conservative but not driven by its ideology -- “Without Fear or Favor,” is its slogan, and while we’ve seen them shirk from those loft ideals upon occasion, it’s usually right-on -- the six-days-a-week newspaper usually takes a cool-eyed view of any subject, filtered through a capitalist lens but not while wearing blinders.

Today’s edition has a thoughtful analysis of “The Bleeding Edge,” a new book by Bob Hughes, a British “activist academic” who used to teach electronic media at Oxford but “now spends his time researching and campaigning against inequality.”

The point of “The Bleeding Edge” is that not all technology is great for the progress of humankind, a point we try to thread throughout 7CTOs blog. Hughes says that technology rooted in capitalism is increasing inequality throughout society, while not making any demonstrable uptick in productivity.

Hughes cites the “productivity paradox,” one of the inconvenient truths of technological advancement. Despite all the new computer and mobile technology of the past 20 years, there has been no  increase in productivity. As technology changes, employees must constantly learn new ways to perform the same task over and over again, with no guarantee the jobs are getting done any faster.  

The FT rightly notes that Hughes’ book is a polemic and he doesn’t go out hunting companies and accomplishments that would undermine his central points. As the article notes, there are remote villages that have become connected yet independent by setting up their own broadband connections when commercial businesses found it uneconomic. The P2P alternatives undermining conventional internet. New kinds of mobile phones with interchangeable parts that don’t require a whole new phone every year or two (and maybe without earplugs!).

But as the article recognizes, these are still fringe businesses and endeavors, not the mainstream consumption-driven capitalist version of technology advancement.

Which is our ongoing appeal to Chief Technology Officers everywhere, whether a 7CTOs member or not. Make sure your technology matters. Help push humanity forward, not so much towards the shopping cart, be it virtual or really rolling. Because sooner or later, the wheels are coming off, and then we’ll really need the best technology has to offer in order to fix things.

In closing, apropos of nothing specific, it's perhaps a cultural "tell" that when you google "Bob Hughes" to learn more about the guy, the #1 response is for a fictional character on a TV soap opera. Thoughtful academic vs. soap opera player? No contest, I guess.