The Dark Side

On the Today program this morning I caught the tail end of an interview with Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft as he discussed his new book Tools and Weapons. The book examines how we balance the enormous promise with the existential risk that digitalisation of everything brings.

Our blind drive towards greater use of technology is something that I feel strongly about and have serious concerns for our future well-being. I worry about the effects on our kids with their round the clock consumption, our parents who can be shut out if they don’t master the web and ourselves somewhere in the middle. No one is immune.

Despite these fears, my own actions upon listening to the interview illustrate the paradox. The piece finished and I immediately opened amazon on my phone, searched for Brad’s book and bought the audio version so I can listen on Audible.

I haven’t started yet, but typically I finish an audiobook in about four or five hours or put it another way I listen to two or three books per week. This use of technology has given me the most incredible access to knowledge and learning.

I listen at 1.75x the standard speed to increase my ability to consume more information, while still retaining the knowledge. Any faster and I lose track of what the words mean.

Going back to technology, this book and thousands of others like it give you access to the mind, the experience and the teachings of some of the greatest thinkers of our time. Many of the writers are at the cutting edges of our technology and our learning.

So, on the one hand, we benefit massively from the advances of technology, my business is built around the internet, and my mind is expanded by the web, but I believe there is this massive dark side.

The addictive nature, the mindless activity, the manipulation of our thoughts and views, the loss of jobs, the lack of connection to real people, the power and control exerted by a tiny number of international companies.

This list could go on and on. But you can see what I’m getting at. How do we keep hold of the “good” parts of technology and limit the danger and the harm that it can do? I don’t know the answer, but maybe Brad’s book will help. I will keep you posted!

Together, we climb the mountain, not in giant leaps but one small step at a time.

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