Someone else’s job

Audrey Watters posted a talk she gave at Emerson College.  In it, she talks about how many people the technology that’s infiltrating most of our lives:

What I often fear is that we don’t really know what our needs are – technologically at least. Indeed, I think we’ve shied away from figuring this out, in part because we’ve been convinced that technology is too hard, too complicated. We’ve surrendered too to the notion tech is necessarily intimidating – or conversely to the idea that tech “just works” – and that we needn’t interrogate, let alone master it. It’s “someone else’s job.”

“Someone else’s job” – perhaps, but that job is increasingly encroaching on our own work.

I increasingly feel that there isn’t a single job on this planet where it’s okay to not understand how technology works at a deeper level than just being able to post to Facebook or send email.  I spend an awful lot of time explaining how things work to people so that they can purchase the right software, run the right queries, collect and analyze the right data, basically so that they can do. their. jobs.  And that doesn’t mean that they need to be able to write the actual query (though that helps).  They have to know that a query needs to be written, and that you have to have clean and organized data on which to run that query.  You have to know how different systems connect together, or just that they can connect together.

Audrey points to some of the ethical issues related to technology encroaching on our work.  You can’t even get to those, I don’t think, until you have a good understanding of the technology itself.  But I think we should think about those, too.  I have my students bring current events into the classroom, and we start class with those.  Many of those raise the ethical issues about who owns our data, how safe it is, and how much technology might be driving government and business decisions.  It’s a good way for them to take what they’re learning and apply it to “the real world.”  Of course, they’re living these issues.  Their data is everywhere, being analyzed, and being used to write algorithms to sell products to them.

There’s no excuse now for saying, “I just don’t get this stuff.”  Or for thinking the Internet is a “series of tubes.”  Of course, Audrey and I both have been saying this for about 15 years.  And we still have people thinking technology is neutral and that the biggest issue is that we all stare at screens now.  Maybe, just maybe, in 10 years, we’ll have some young people who’ve wrestled with these issues become business and government leaders, and start to lead us in a better direction.  I can hold out hope, right?