Are the young white males of Silicon Valley stealing our future? This question, posed by author and futurist Richard Watson in his new book Digital Vs Human: how we’ll live, love and think in thefuture, rests on the idea that too much power lies in the hands of a band of geeky male digital innovators who might be dangerously out of touch with the majority of human thoughts and feelings about the type of future we want.
Far be it from me to suggest that a few weeks on a digital leadership programme has transformed me into a talented, nerdy digital innovator but I find myself experiencing an unexpected level of empathy with the objects of Watson’s critique. It has suddenly dawned on me that it is very easy to feel out of touch with your fellow humans when you start talking digital.
As the Director of Scotland for Home-Start it is my job to help our network develop in cost-effective ways to meet the support needs of families today and in the future. But not all my colleagues are keen to take up the challenge of tweaking our tried and tested model of volunteer led face-to-face engagement to ensure we carry on being the best we can be.
Does it matter? In this attention deficit disordered world of smartphones, DirectGov, cyber bullies and sexting aren’t we right to carry on championing the art of simply being there with people in the room when they need us? I think we are and I’m not just saying that to avoid the heretic’s fate of being thrown on a bonfire fuelled by one of our many piles of excess paperwork. But that’s not a sufficiently compelling argument for changing nothing.
The problem is that too few of us understand what more we might achieve if we could better understand the potential of digital tools. In a world full of people raised with a networked camera in their hand and a search engine in place of a well-developed memory, the digital laggard can easily forget that what looks and feels OK to them seems weirdly alienating to others.
It’s OK to believe in the tried and tested but it is not OK to simply assume that everyone else feels the same way.
One challenge we face is lack of knowledge and confidence in the face of speedy changes in technology. But we don’t have to fully understand everything to start on a journey of change. After all, we don’t all have a perfect grasp of how a plane works but that doesn’t stop many of us flying and it certainly doesn’t stop us imagining our next holiday.
And that’s what we have to do – imagine and work towards the digital future as we would like it to be. After all, we Third Sector folk are supposed to be the people people and if we turn our backs on digital innovation we can’t really complain if the geeks do steal our future, can we?