I’ve been to my fair share of conferences in the past year, and most of them are technology related due to my interest in education, digital media, and communications.
The vast majority of them haven’t been worth my time, and are generally filled with a lexicon that makes my eyes roll in a perpetual fashion — seriously, if I could come up with a measure of how many times I’ve heard the words “disruption,” “gig economy,” “innovation,” and “big data” with how many times my eyeballs have done a 180-degree turn, I suspect there would be a strong correlation.
So when I decided to attend this year’s IN-NW Conference, a conference built around innovation, I went in with a healthy dose of skepticism.
As Hanson Hosein, moderator, host, and president of HRH Media, took the stage, he introduced the conference speakers. He also acknowledged the ever-changing world of digital media. I was about 90-degrees through my first eye roll before that familiar process was immediately halted.
After introductions were made, Hosein shifted the conversation away from the usual tech buzzwords and explained how this year’s conference would unfold. It was music to my ears.
Technology isn’t the answer
I admit that I can be a cynic at times, but there’s nothing I love more than to have that cynicism thrown back at me. And to his credit, Hosein was doing just that. After hearing those words, I could already feel my attitude changing. Hosein began to speak about Kentaro Toyama’s book “Geek Heresy,” which just so happens to be a favorite of mine.
In “Geek Heresy,” Toyoma puts forth his theory around technology and dubs it “The Law of Amplification.” Hosein succinctly described it by saying, “Technology is never the outright solution to any challenge or problem and all is actually does is amplify what is there already.”
Basically, if positive social forces exist within an organization, community, or society, technology has the capacity to amplify it and truly create something amazing. Conversely, if negative factors are present, those too will be amplified.
I don’t think I need to recount the many times technology has failed to deliver on its grand promises. If we were to examine some of the major technological successes while also looking at what existing human forces are at play, we can really begin to see how to make technology succeed. When we’re talking and thinking about technology, I think we are long over due for humanity to take the center stage.
“No technology in our time can thrive without a strong, participatory community.” – Adriana Gil-Miner
It was this theme that kept me engaged to IN-NW for a solid eight hours. When speaking about UX design, Ashley Karr of General Assembly echoed Hosein’s remarks. “When we design, we are building for people other than us,” she said. “We should make relationships more important than points of contention.” Again, humanity first.
Adriana Gil-Miner, VP of Corporate Communications at Tableau, shifted the scope of the discussion by focusing on the communal aspect that must be present when discussing technology. “No technology in our time can thrive without a strong, participatory community,” she said. I couldn’t agree more.
If designers, communicators, developers, and technologists are to succeed, a strong community must be kept in mind and supported in those endeavors. And I don’t mean just growing an audience or building a user base to achieve market share. There has to be a collaborative approach to sustaining that participatory community.
— Danny Gross (@DannyGross) April 27, 2016
In a most non-traditional fashion for a digital media conference, the last speaker of the day was Producing Artistic Director for the Intiman Theatre, Andrew Russell. He made no mention of technology other than saying, “Technological progress is not human progress.” There was no air of arrogance in that statement and it wasn’t a jab at technology; it was meant to draw attention to the human element that is the thread running through the world of digital media.
His words reverberated with me and possibly the whole crowd. We are the storytellers of the 21st century — the users and creators of new and amazing digital media tools — but his parting words were ones we should all remember. “It’s up to you to determine how we use those tools and to move something forward. The using of tools is not the same as moving that heart forward.”
I can’t say what everyone else took away from the conference, but I know what I came away with. I love technology, digital media and the whole suite of things associated with those concepts. But the advancement of those things needs to be done in parallel with humanity. Human beings should be our focus, and building inclusive communities should be a cornerstone.