Technology is ubiquitous in our lives as Americans, and pretty much the norm throughout the western world. Some believe that it has the capacity to cure all that ails us; others harbor sentiments about it akin to Martin Luther’s feeling for the devil, when he turned and threw his inkwell at him. Whether you love, hate, or are ambivalent about technology, it’s here to stay. Complaining about it won’t change anything.
There are certainly cautionary tales to be told about blind techno-evangelism. Attributing the power of magic to mere innovation for innovation’s sake is problematic and often all-too-common when it comes to our views about technology in this place and time. Another dark side of technology is our inability to learn, unlearn, and relearn new applications that are required to remain relevant in the 21st century. This is often a blind spot for neo-Luddites too.
I’ve noticed a trend over the past decade. I’ve been observing a phenomenon that many in leadership positions, both in business, as well as government and the nonprofit sector, have not stayed current when it comes to knowing about and understanding technology. Worse, I’ve been in countless meetings, and heard them admit in front of good-sized audiences that they don’t know how to use some basic, commonly used aspect of technology. They’ve even gone as far as to laugh and joke about it, as if it’s nothing to be concerned about. This is common with social media, but it’s not limited to Web 2.0, either. This is troubling to me.
Leaders in both private industry and the nonprofit sector, have failed to stay current with the changes that have become commonplace. Instead, they defer to their IT departments (if the company or organization is large enough), even on basic tasks that they could figure out by Googling an inquiry about how to perform a particular technological task. In my opinion, being a dinosaur in the 21st century will only lead to you being left behind at some point. And please, don’t wear your ignorance as some kind of white bread, privileged, badge of honor, either.
At a recent free agent drive-by, senior leadership, along with other key membrs of the organization were clueless about basic things like PayPal, Twitter, and what content management systems (CMS) were. Instead, their solution was to throw money at consultants to take care of every issue relative to their website. The site was functional, but in my opinion, not much more than that.
I’m glad I took the time in 2012 to learn about designing and launching my own website for The Jim Baumer Experience. While I’m no web designer, learning a CMS, like WordPress, really helped me later to have an understanding of web design and what the function and purpose of a website should be. I then leveraged that knowledge to get up another site at an organization I was leading.
Knowing about technology and its various facets matters. It’s also important for evaluating various claims made about the efficacy of the latest technology. In my opinion, if you’re a CEO, or company president, you should have at least a rudimentary understanding of Web 2.0. Buy a book (or two) and read them. You’d be amazed what you’ll find out. You’ll also be ahead of 95 percent of your peers.
Since we’re on the subject of snake oil, The Baffler, which fancies its role as that of “blunting the cutting edge,” devoted an entire issue to techno drivel and in particular, the subject of hucksterism, and “buncombe.” One article by David Graeber was especially germane on the subject. Knowing what’s legit, or “buncombe,” is important, but remaining ignorant of technology, and being flippant about your ignorance isn’t cool at all.
Graeber begins his article with this:
America is a country made possible by hucksterism and carnival buncombe. It is the birthplace of both modern PR and advertising, the first place on earth to apply techniques of commercial marketing to politics, and a country where, for at least thirty years, the economy has been driven by the engine of finance—that is, by the magical creation of wealth through financial securities and derivatives. When you consider that those U.S. companies that still produce commodities now devote themselves mainly to developing brands and images, you realize that American capitalism conjures value into being chiefly by convincing everyone it’s there.
Graeber is applying “buncombe” to finance and “brands and images,” rather than hard goods, which this country (as a leading manufacturer) used to produce. He could just as easily be referring to technology, however.
An entire industry has grown up around selling the benefits of social media. The hucksters in this field have been pushing terms like SEO, and keywords for nearly 20 years. Interestingly, Google just came out and indicated that new developments in how search algorithms work, like Panda and Penguin, allowing Google’s search functions to work the way they’re supposed to.
When it comes to technology, often, you don’t know what you don’t know. When you become aware of the need to know something, it’s often when you’re up against a deadline. Stress, and trying to get deliverables to the finish line aren’t a great learning environment; welcome to free agent nation.
Last week, I bought a 16 GB flash drive manufactured by PNY. I had some very large video files to deliver to a client to finalize a major project I’ve been working on since late April.Since the capacity of the flash drive said, “16 GB,” I assumed that I’d be able to load both videos, each one about 7 GBs.
What I didn’t know, and have never had to deal with in using flash drives to save much smaller files—mostly Word docs and PDFs—was that I needed to reformat the drive, as the memory is partitioned in the default setting, and flash drives like these aren’t cross-compatible on Macs and Windows-based operating systems that PCs and most laptops run on.
I learned this lesson the hard way as I had files loaded by my video producer and when I tried to open them on my laptop, I got a message saying I needed to reformat my disk. Doing so would mean losing my files. Back to square one.
I did some reading online and found that I could set the setting on the flash drive to exFAT, which is a file system that eliminates the major deficiencies of FAT32 (which is the flash drive’s default, set at the factory). What changes this setting does is open up the drive’s largest partition, and file sizes it supports are virtually unlimited by today’s standards. It’s almost perfect, with one caveat; since exFAT is fairly new, it isn’t compatible with older Macs and PCs. Any Mac running 10.6.5 (Snow Leopard) or 10.7 (Lion) supports exFAT, while PCs running Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP1, and Windows 7 are compatible. If you know you’ll be using computers running updated versions of these operating systems, exFAT is the clear best choice. It worked for me. Again, I had to figure this out on my own, as the PYN support function didn’t work, as I tried calling their support hotline. None of their automated choices were what I was after. An online work order was not responded to by anyone at PYN.
This is a great example of learning on the fly. It’s not something you are ever taught in school, or by taking one of many leadership training programs offered by various organizations, either. An advanced degree won’t help you. In fact, one of my old bosses, a wonderful person to work for, someone with his Ph.D., was one of the worst when it came to understanding and navigating technology.
The kind of “learn on the fly” education that freelancers require originates in the DIY ethic I’ve embraced. Many technology fixes and workarounds can actually be accessed and learned at places like the University of Autodidactica, also. This is the school that more and more free agents are discovering, and signing up for advanced classes at.
Since we’re talking technology, this is as good a place as any to comment on the issues with the Affordable Care Act’s website, healthcare.gov. The past week, there’s been a stampede gathering, merely set to pile on about the website’s troubles, and some of the difficulty people have had with accessing the site, taking shots at the ACA and the administration.
During this rush by journalists (who continue to miss the larger story), politicians (especially those opposed to the ACA), and ordinary Americans to criticize and complain, the simple fact that signing up for health insurance is always a bitch seems to have been forgotten, or conveniently ignored. Seriously, when was the last time you applied for an insurance plan, especially if you were self-employed, a small business owner, or anyone applying for health insurance, outside of large, employer-sponsored plans, that it wasn’t a nightmare? They collect an inordinate amount of information, about every conceivable aspect of your health situation, privacy-be-damned, and then, it’s, “we’ll get back to you in two weeks,” and you wait to find out if you’re approved.
I had a discussion about this with Ross Lasley, aka, The Internet Educator. If you don’t know Ross, you should. His monthly newsletter is the kind of no-nonsense web-based guide that more of us should be reading and incorporating as part of our technology tool kits; smart, funny, and informative. Come to think of it, those would be three excellent descriptors for Ross.
One of Ross’s specialties is designing and helping businesses understand e-commerce, things like “shopping carts.” Here’s what he told me as we were talking about healthcare.gov, which thinks is a pretty damn good site, btw, and he can back that up—just email him.
“Sixty percent of all people abandon shopping carts without checking out,” which makes the numbers not completing their online “shopping experience” with the ACA and selecting an insurance plan nothing different that normal consumer behavior.
What CNN should be doing, rather than following and timing people signing up for insurance, is to actually do some reporting on how healthcare.gov is no different—no better no better, no worse—than any other large shopping site. Of course that would be called journalism and none of the major networks and cable players do much of that anymore.
Back to Ross again; his email includes these two quotes, which I think work well as kind of a footnote to today’s longer than usual post.
“Human happiness and human satisfaction must ultimately come from within oneself. It is wrong to expect some final satisfaction to come from money or from a computer.” -Tenzin Gyatso, HHDL
“Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination.” – Albert Einstein
Technology can’t cure stupidity, or laziness. Both of these are in abundance, and sadly, in equal measure at the top of organizations and companies, as it is in the general rank and file employees.
Technology is a tool, and merely a tool. You must learn how to wield it, but don’t think you can live vicariously through others via Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter, and suddenly, everything in your life will be perfect. By combining the human element—the things we do best—and enhancing them with tools like technology, makes for a winning combination.