free hugs by ken green

A tech manifesto for love and peace

If you’ve read many blog posts, either here or at interactiveknowhow, you’ll know I’ve always liked to see social media as a force for good: a means of helping us become more transparent, open, collaborative and connected.

Of course, social media is also a marketing tool. And it’s interesting that angry, divisive, polarised messaging is doing so brilliantly at present. In terms of truth and openness, November 2016 will go down in history as a seminal month: the month no-holds-barred emotion officially became ‘better’ than actual facts.

In November, ‘post-truth’ became Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year as we saw our world go full ‘Black Mirror’.  Donald Trump credited Facebook and Twitter with winning the US election, social networks struggled to control fake news, Silicon Valley witnessed the Tech CEOs’ nightmare – a president totally at odds with their values, and, oh yes, Tila Tequila was suspended from Twitter. I’m quoting that last one not so much for the absurdity of a forgotten celebrity making headlines again but because someone suddenly thinks it’s ok to be neo-nazi.

Technology has taken us here, and it’s nothing like the utopia we were hoping for. To lighten things up, I’m re-printing my favourite “free hugs” photo from 2007 and wondering what we can possibly learn from all this, and how we can use recent events to drive something positive. Can’t we get together some kind of tech manifesto to take things forward?

Here are some thoughts so far:

1. Give status and value to human-facing, caring jobs. Some people like to blame free trade (and immigration) for our problems. Trade is not the issue – it’s technology. Automation and disintermediation are rendering many traditional jobs obsolete. At the same time, there is an acute shortage of people wanting to do service jobs such as teaching or caring. These are jobs that you wouldn’t really want done by a robot. These jobs are growth areas. We need to work out ways of giving status and value to them. Supercarers and Buurtzorg are great projects. And of course, Now Teach.

2. Find a way to incorporate slow. My daughter just came back from a week on a farm in Devon. She came back healthier, happier and lighter. There’s something in going slow and doing manual, repetitive tasks in a group together, especially if these tasks are in nature, or nature-related. It all fits in with the trend for mindfullness. And it’s good for sustainability. Farms for City Children does amazing work. And Headspace and Refigure help people unwind in their tech-frazzled lives. We need more of this sort of stuff.

3. Use 21st century media and practices to communicate. I’ve heard it in few places now but one of the problems is that we’re using 19th century responses to 21st century conversations. Like answering an outcry on social media by issuing a press release. So many industries still operate in 19th century ways (it’s not just government, look at teaching)! It’s our complacancy that’s allowed divisive rhetoric to take control. We need to use the amazing technology we have to solve our problems in a brave and modern way. These tools should not be here to create echo-chambers but to support rigourous, evolved debate. It’s embarrassing how narrowly we use them: we should be using modern communications technologies to expand our social circles (thank you Sadiq Khan), listen to our enemies and to start to understand why and how people can think differently.

4. Be brave, and if you can’t be brave, be kind. I’m taking this advice from the most chilling article I’ve read over the last month (but I’d recommend reading it). We need to stand up for what we believe in, practice empathy but not tolerate hate. Yes we need to listen, but we need to also question things that literally don’t make sense (like racism).The statement from Jo Cox’s family (after her killer was sentenced) is a fabulous example. Be true to ourselves, be kind, share vulnerability and honesty (not arrogance or entitlement).

5. Start imagining a different future rather than another past – this is is the conclusion of a great article by George Monboit in the Guardian. As any life coach, spiritual leader or self-help guide will tell you: change starts with visualisation. I don’t know the psychological reasons for this, but I do know it seems to work. And right now, the future that’s being imagined for us ain’t so pretty. We need to get creative and come up with a viable alternative.  That’s why I’ve signed up to Future Assembly this Thursday. If you’re in London and can spare a fiver (and a couple of hours), come and join me!

These are just five ideas for starters. What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have any to add to the list? Let me know what you think in the comments (or come and chat on Twitter). And do tell me if you’ve worked out any great ways to tackle ‘post-truth’.

There’s a sense right now that social media is a pandora’s box, that technological ‘progress’ is something we should start to question. But a hundred years ago global leaders’ main problem wasn’t refugees, climate change and economic volatility, it was horse manure. The motor car blew that problem out of the water (and no-one saw the Model T coming). The fact that technology is taking jobs away does not mean we should stop developing it. We should work with technology to find the answers.

Photo: Ken Green

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