That is the question I asked at Les Blogs on Tuesday afternoon. I was struck by an underlying theme that went through virtually all of the discussions at the show: how fast everything moves. From technology, to jobs, to company flips, to trends...you get the picture. Of course, this isn't a new thought. I think we all deal with it every day on a subliminal level. But sometimes, it rises to consciousness, and when that happens, I, for one, start feeling an intense anxiety.
Do I know enough? Am I keeping up? Am I smart enough? Have I missed something? These and many more questions fly through my brain and I sometimes find myself paralyzed: unable to think or act for minutes at a time. Then, I calm down, and say to myself, "just float." Rather than trying to analyze every little detail, I let the details, the information wash over me and simply try to mentally note those things that stick. In fact, blogging has helped me make sense of the overwhelming amount of information that passes by. I blog about what sticks, which helps reinforce my thinking.
But going back to my question. Does the ever-increasing rate of change that we face every day have an ethical component to it? Is the rapid pace of technological change, which often precludes any discussion of social implications, unethical?
My question was the second ethics-related question to the final
panel of the day. And that question was preceded by a very interesting
discussion of free speech and China. The first ethics-related question
resulted in a debate about the ethics of Flickr
and video blogging. Is it right to post photos/videos of people to the
web without their permission? Lots of muttering in the audience...
Two brave souls on the panel attempted to answer my question. Ben Hammersley said we can't do it. That the system has taken over, it moves to fast to try to insert ethics. Barak Berkowitz, CEO of Six Apart, said we have to do the best we can without thinking about things too much.
Ouch. One answer says we are at the mercy of technological determinism and we might as well give up. The other says it isn't really worth thinking about, and we should just follow current social mores.
I disagree. Those answers are a choice that we make. I refuse to believe we are at the mercy of technology.
Why oh why can't brilliant technologists, many of whom where sitting in that room, invent something that uses technology to bring ethics into play? This isn't my idea. Here I quote from the 2005 State of the Future Report, which synthesizes the opinions of a bunch of really smart people around the world. Their Global Challenge Number 9 is relevant to this discussion: "How can the capacity to decide be improved as the nature of work and institutions change?"
Because the unprecedented speed of change makes people unsure about the future and because globalization is challenging philosophical and religious certainty, people are unsure of the basis on which to make decisions...
Democratization and interactive media are adding to the number of people involved in decisionmaking, which increases complexity -- making continuous modifications of decisions more likely than decision closure...
...we have to learn how to improve and deploy appropriate management techniques, including Internet-based tools and concepts, fast enough to catch up with all the social and technological change. Collaborative and individual-use software could prompt users at critical points in decisionmaking (like spell check in word processing) to consider relevant factors... [Emphasis mine, ethics is a relevant factor]
Just as efficiency is a key criterion in decisionmaking for industrial economies, wisdom based on global ethics will be a criterion in decisionmaking for successful knowledge economies."
So, here's a challenge for our smart entrepreneurs. There may be a way to bring ethics into decisionmaking that also enables you to build a successful company. If you are working on this, please let me know!