In a year where much of regular life has been upended, and in a season where winter is upon us, it may seem like the worst possible time to propose embracing optimism.
And yet, when the New York Times On Tech columnist Shira Ovide challenged readers to live in the grey and embrace both optimism and potential downsides of technology, she made an excellent point.
In fact, 2020 is a prime example of why thinking about tech in what Ovide calls the “gray zone” of complexity, is essential. Burnt out from seemingly endless video conferencing meetings and app-based workouts, screen time, and technology fatigue is a valid concern. It’s not imagined - the Psychiatric Times identifies the “tiredness, worry, or burnout” that stems from overuse of virtual communications as “Zoom fatigue,” a new classification of fatigue that stems in part from social disconnection and issues like audio delays, among others.
But our technology is also what enabled us to propel education forward, work remotely, and stay connected to friends and family even as the COVID-19 pandemic kept us physically apart.
On a larger scale, a recent Deloitte Digital report lauded the ways technology has changed the world during the pandemic, including enabling the retail industry through digital transformation and accelerating the healthcare industry’s response to the crisis by enabling information, testing, and containment and patient management remotely.
Optimism in technology
Of course, our take on technology is broader in scope than just the pandemic. Ovide points out technology executive Sriram Krishnan's recent tweet challenging the media to cut the “dystopian sci-fi” depictions in favor of “more positive depictions of people building things” – in the vein of Tony Stark’s Iron Man.
This isn’t an empty call to action – in fact, even the public health field is beginning to leverage entertainment media for what they call “entertainment-education” to influence the public’s health-related views, according to The Truth About Nursing, a nonprofit organization, which focuses on media portrayals.
Technology depiction is no different.
If people – including young people – are faced with only negative depictions of a technology that throws us into a dystopia, leaves us as empty, zone-out shells of our former selves, or eviscerates mankind altogether, a career in technology isn’t likely to top anyone’s list of desired jobs.
And, some realism in technology
Of course, technology can’t only be viewed with rose-colored glasses, as we’re also faced with some real implications from technology advancements that must be dealt with, like digital surveillance and privacy, the impact of social media, and the burgeoning power of the leading tech giants.
But this is where Ovide’s recommendation to live in the grey comes into play: it’s more nuanced than pure, corrupting evil, or benevolent world-changer. One thing is for sure though: technology makes our lives better in so many ways – we just have to ask the right questions.
From enabling a grandfather to watch his grandchildren play hockey anywhere to sustaining a paraplegic’s self-described “fussy” shopping habits from home and keeping people safe with blind-spot technology in cars, Ovide’s readers waxed poetic about more than 100 different ways technology improved their lives.
Why is technology optimism important? Because it helps us aim higher. Those dreamers may need to be tempered by some pessimists who can ask all the “what if” questions that provide necessary guardrails around the new technology, but first, we have to dream big.
At Education Unbound, we’re optimistic about the ways the next generation will change the world, and we believe one step is igniting a love of learning in them through STEAM-powered education. Help us cultivate new tech optimists and tech realists by coming alongside us in our quest to prepare underserved students for the Future of Word through our project-based learning approaches. Learn more at https://www.educationunbound.org/.