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InfoQ Homepage News Philip Lay's Advice to Technologists: Stop Disrupting, Start Engaging

Philip Lay's Advice to Technologists: Stop Disrupting, Start Engaging

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In a thought-provoking recent article on his personal site, commentator and strategy adviser Philip Lay admonished the technology industry to stop disrupting and start engaging.  He points to the populist dissatisfaction with technology-enabled globalization, the Brexit vote, the rise of Donald Trump in the USA and the general level of geo-political and social-economic instability around the world.  He encourages tech companies to do more to support local growth and skills development, to partner with local and national governments and focus on collaboration and inclusiveness. 

Lay talks about the impact that technology companies have had on society through the disruption of existing industries, done without regard for the social impact and unintended consequences of the changes.  He states that: 

An increasingly likely outcome from continuing to adopt an uppity attitude toward the industries and workers whose livelihooods tech companies are disrupting will be a backlash against tech that could cause new anti-trust style regulations and other legal constraints on tech companies’ ability to dominate certain industries...

He gives the example of the backlash against Uber in many jurisdictions as the type of action which could become widespread and result in severe restrictions on what technology companies will be permitted to do under potentially draconian legislation.

He says:

In summary, more than three decades of globalized commerce operating on inconsistent regulations and practices, poorly resolved economic and financial crises such as the almost-Armageddon of 2008, the increasing digital divide caused by advances in information technology unaccompanied by advances in education or governance, have resulted in increased inequality between nations, sectors of society, employees and business leaders, haves and have-nots, knows and know-nots – all of these factors have led us to where we are today.

He goes on to state that the remedy is for technology to become an engine of equality, not eliteism. He presents a list of imperitives- things that technologists need to consider in the civic sphere as they apply new tools and techniques:

  1. Start by eliminating the Disrupt mantra from your rhetoric, and start embracing the concept of Engaging with all users, workers and customers within your global universe, as well as with government and other authorities
  2. Think about all of the implications of major technology innovations, and seek to increase their benefits while also neutralizing their possible downsides
  3. Align your programs closely with those of the government
  4. Reduce cost-based outsourcing offshore to an absolute minimum, substituting it with a focus on productivity
  5. Establish scholarships in community and technical colleges for operational roles
  6. Collaborate with government and police initiatives in cybersecurity
Some examples of initiatives that are already underway include the Tech for Engagement programs from the Knight Foundation, supporting a wide range of activities and groups. 
Laurenellen McCann has written a book (also available as a series of blog posts) titled "Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech", described as an: 
investigation into what it means to build civic tech with, not for. It answers the question, "what's the difference between sentiment and action?


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Community comments

  • Re: Nice 1984

    by Matt Friedman,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    100% spot on. Sorry, I'm an innovator and the things I do enrich society, create wealth, and in the process may disrupt old, antiquated, inefficient industry. I'm not a social justice warrior. Sorry to disappoint the marxist author.

  • Re: Nice 1984

    by Jeff McFarland,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I agree with both of you. He argues that there's too much "inequality between nations" and then admonishes companies for outsourcing. Like it or not, outsourcing helps spread wealth to poorer nations and helps offset that inequality.

    Maybe government should try aligning itself with industry for a change. The private sector is efficient and customer oriented. Maybe they could learn some lessons. Unfortunately government leaders would rather be disruptive to industry.

  • Re: Nice 1984

    by William Smith,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    "In other words, please stop innovating & obey your overlords. "

    I may be on my own here but I don't think that's a fair interpretation at all.

    It seems to me that there’s an important point here. As software becomes more and more pervasive it surely is important that we consider the impact of what we do on wider society. To take an example is sweeping away all the regulations that have been set up to protect uses of taxi services OK? Uber is a company who's Senior Vice President floated making critics’ personal lives fair game, and has been repeatedly caught up in controversy.So mnay Silicon Valley firms operates in a sort of legal grey area that allows it to exploit workers and avoid restrictions designed to protect users - particularly woman. Snapchat can't keep user's data secure. Facebook and Google sell your data to anyone who wants it. And so on.

    I think it is very unwise of us that work in technology to assume that somehow we are immune to wider social impact of what we do.

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