Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Laws of Technology and Myths of Change

Kranzberg’s 6 laws of technology:
1st - Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
2nd - Invention is the mother of necessity.
3rd - Technology comes in packages, big and small.
4th - Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, non-technical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
5th - All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
6th - Technology is a very human activity - and so is the history of technology.

Melvin Kranzberg’s First Law helps to clarify the myths of technology change: “Technology is neither good nor bad—nor is it neutral. At the risk of spoiling its Zen-like nature, let me propose an interpretation: a technology isn’t inherently good or bad, but it will have an impact, which is why it’s not neutral. Almost every applied technology has a good side and a bad side. When you think of transportation technologies, do you think of how they enable a delightful vacation or get the family back together during the holidays—or do you think of traffic jams and pollution? Are books a source of wisdom and spirituality or a way to distribute pornography and hate? Do you applaud medical technology for curing plagues or deplore transportation technology for spreading them? Does encrypted e-mail keep honest people safe from criminals or criminals safe from the police? Are plastics durable conveniences or everlasting pollutants? Counterfeiting comes with money, obscene phone calls come with the telephone, spam comes with e-mail, and pornography comes with the Internet. Every law creates an outlaw.”

Now that I’m a part of the Microsoft Vision Team (no I’m not a techie…I am in fact an Executive Shadow Coach) I look at the context technology has in my life as well as the lives of my clients. I’ve had this discussion with many of them as technology has changed dramatically over the years. It’s not only how a computer has gone from being the size of a room to one that fits into my pocket i.e. my BlackBerry but how it’s so integrated in everything we do. We don’t pay as much attention to it. It’s no longer this mystical machine that a select few know how to use. Everyone from my son to my parents use computers. Almost everything we do has a technological component to it. However when it comes to what we do with it, do we still have a choice?

Another question that continually comes to mind is, how do we co-exist with all this wonderful technology without letting it take over our lives? Work life balance is not what it used to be nor is it the same for everyone. It used to be that we unplugged before going on vacation. Now we schedule in our email and voice mail check at least once a day even when on holiday. And before I get a plethora of screaming emails on that subject, in my world and that of most of my clients, there is no way they can go a week without checking for many reasons. First of all, they can’t disconnect their minds as to what’s happening. Some might be out of work by the time they get home if they don’t pay attention. For others, if their minds are on what might be happening back at home, then they can’t disconnect at all. Checking in once a day to see what might be waiting when they get back at least gives them a heads up which they can choose to put aside until they come home, or give instructions as to how to handle a sensitive matter so they don’t get slammed by it the moment they walk into the office.

If that does happen, all the benefits of going away on holiday are negated in seconds. If they deal with hot issues along the way and then put them aside for the rest of the day, then they can relax and let go. One can disconnect technology but not the mind. Work with it instead of fighting it, set your boundaries as to what you need to know while you’re away and technology can be there for you in just the way you want. It’s all about setting boundaries. In that, we do have a choice.

Donna Karlin

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