It's hard to see it, but our society is quickly becoming what authors decades ago wrote about when they pictured the future. A future where everyone is looking down consuming mindless content 24/7, going to work, eating, repeating endlessly until robot dogs run wild. And there's nothing wrong with that, if it's what one chooses in life. But if people just never have the time to think because of the artificially imposed stresses upon them, which are indeed caused by our ever increasing technology, then yes, yes it is an issue and it should be resolved as soon as possible.
We can safely say that this is the first generation to be living in this state of high technology, so it's okay if we admit that we have some growing pains and we're still trying to figure it out. My idea of a futuristic wonder world has little to do with spending as much time as possible with my neck at an angle staring at random photos and more with the idea that we can travel long distances for free, feel secured knowing that those around us are neither hungry nor cold, and to know that there is some financial system in place that doesn't put that strain on humans or nature.
But we're constantly in a state of alert and you can't be both creative and scared at the same time. It just doesn't work that way. And again, technology has much to do with these many of these issues. Or more specifically, our current use of technology.
Because I write software, I'm constantly looking at issues, and constantly looking for solutions. It's almost second nature now after 15 years of programming. So the following are a few ways in which I feel we can begin to shift societal mindsets to a more positive and uplifting place. A place less rushed and more creative. It definitely starts with us individually and I feel that at the core it definitely starts with the people who are building this infrastructure.
We have to think outside current standards
If I were to list all of the issues facing the planet currently, it would make for a sad blog post. So instead of focusing on those, we'll take the other route. Every single issue, has a massive possibility for a solution. Every single one. Otherwise it wouldn't be an issue. By definition, there is something that can be done, whether it be the reverse of what we're doing, or something even more advanced to counteract the effects of what we're doing.
For example, homelessness is a massive issue in LA County. How can we use technology to help relieve the stress of this? We obviously can't write software to build small homes (yet), but we can use algorithms and formulas to analyze the problem more. To see where the most homeless people are and to get a better picture as to why the issue is even happening. We're spending much effort on the surface of the issue and spending almost no time looking at the source.
More than likely, you don't know any homeless people. Because if you did, you would help them. But the truth is that many of these people, lose all connections to the "regular" society. They have to fend for themselves and rely on each other. And thinking that a homeless family is going to get out of poverty with the help of another homeless family is insanity. So communication is important. We can't buy them homes, but we can provide a meal. We can provide clothing. We can provide day to day amenities.
We have communication tools by the thousands these days. But unfortunately they aren't used for any real positive purpose. In fact, we might even be losing our ability to communicate face to face at a human level. We love having an online conversation with emojis and memes and GIF's. But in real life, we don't know what to talk about. So a big part of changing our technological future, as corny as it sounds, does begin with using technology to change ourselves for the better and to learn to be more human.
We have to stop wasting each others time
The biggest plague currently facing our society I feel is this mindless need for novelty that we've cultivated an entire internet for. The internet is an amazing idea. Content can be dispersed globally (kind of) in seconds. But most of that content currently is x-rated or random photos of things. Technically, those 2 are kind of a waste of time. And this all goes back to software. All of it. From the people running these sites, to the developers who mindlessly code them never once thinking about the consequences, just about that paycheck.
So we have to think differently and measure success of a new technology not on the amount of time people are spending on it, but of the use its providing. Take Uber for example. I've never spent more than 60 seconds on the app, and it does so much. That's a phenomenal app! It's giving people jobs that would normally be on unemployment and it's providing me a fantastic service at a somewhat reasonable price. Apps for sending currency instantly to another person, equally as fantastic. These apps solve a problem, and they do so without distracting you too much from your current day to day life.
At any given moment we're being bombarded with random news from 150 different countries coming in from different sources. Whether through a "Breaking News" section on a site, or a built in news feed app on your phone. And the actual truth, that no one will admit, is that none of that news has anything to do with what you are doing or what you will do. Sure it's "shocking". But that's it's purpose. I have to jump on social media these days to find out about the events in my city going down this weekend. Things that are relevant to me. But a politician in country 'A' insulting another in country 'B'? Very little substance.
We have to give power back to the programmers
Everything ends with the programmer. Without them, you have no product. You can have a great idea in your head, but without the for and if-else that's as far as it goes. Sadly, programmer's land at the bottom of the food chain in most companies, hence the term Code Monkey. For this reason, the programmers usually tend to just do what they're told in order to protect their paychecks. I know, as I did the same many a time. Even going against what you know is logically correct at times.
But we have to think differently in order to create better and more useful software. We have to acknowledge the real value in a software engineers. We have to put them on top of the list. Sure "managing" a project is important, but the prefix "manage" unfortunately creates this artificial imbalance. It makes the manager feel superior and the developer inferior. Not on purpose of course, it's just the way the mind works. This is akin to having the manager of a hospital handle how surgeries will take place.
We need to move away from the ad-based nature of the internet
This is the toughest obstacle, mainly because it's how a large portion of the internet works and has worked for a very long time. Every news site you visit, to every video you watch, to every 5 minutes of 'viewing' time on photo apps. All contain ads. You may see a photo and think that's where the power of the app is. But internally there's some form of ad-engine serving ads and charging people for them. You can't blame these companies. It's the only way that they have set themselves up to operate. And it works, so other companies follow suit. And in the end you have an ad-based financial eco-system.
The biggest issue with this is that we're wasting an insane amount of energy and man-power to run these ad machines. Much of the work I did for other companies was indeed work to improve on affiliate marketing systems. Months of work sometimes went into these type of things. And in the end, these websites exhausted all possible means of finance, lost all traction and ended up being sold for pennies. And this cycle repeated across a vast number of different websites.
And ads are an easy enough way to generate revenue. Once you have a hook, you can just serve them freely and no one will think twice. We need to start to think differently. To monetize differently. To do so in a more forward facing manner. Ads have no purpose. You buy more of product A than product B. And by no purpose, I mean purpose to you, you can buy either, it doesn't really matter. We need to build more services that people are willing to pay for. And that means, designing useful software.
We need to stop being afraid of each other
There aren't too many apps nowadays that connect people. I don't consider the Pokemon app as a valid way to meet people. On occasion we get many folks gathered in front of our office participating in these "raves" and I see little communication. A few frantic taps later, and everyone vanishes. But I mean real getting to know one another as humans who care about things.
As an example, websites like CouchSurfing are amazing. They've set up a fantastic system where perfect strangers are indeed sharing their homes and in return getting to know someone from far away lands. This reminds of a time long gone, when travelling strangers would appear in town and shack up in someone's villa while mead was drank and stories of yonder were told. And they have a simple monetization method. They charge you for a service. Easy as that.
Technology is here and we're using it as a tool to shape and mold how we go on in our day to day. We can either go the blind and mindless route where we just do what we're told for unknown reasons, or we can begin to engineer software on a more conscientious level.
And that's up to the current generation of programmer's to begin to build. They will be the ones that will be creating and building future software. Sure, maybe you just started coding and you're too busy learning about NPM to build something. But you'll be at year 10 one day, and how you choose to traverse through those 10 years could be a huge determining factor in the kind of society that we are creating and the kind of society that you would want to live in.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.
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