Technology – master or servant?

I had a great evening yesterday, in the company of twenty or so colleagues (is that the right word – see previous article!) from the Institute of Business Consulting of which I am a member because of my coaching and consultancy business. The occasion was the annual Chairman's Networking Dinner impressively hosted at Casani's French Bistro in Bath by our illustrious regional chairman, David Rigby, who has a real gift for these things. The enjoyable meal was interspersed by ten-minute speakers and there was the opportunity for much idle or deep and meaningful conversation.

I found myself talking to two people who, like me, have a significant background in Information Technology. The conversation with the person on my left was all about the problems of using computers today. This ranged from the way in which computer media or files from a decade or so ago cannot be read by today's computers, to how we are losing historical records because inks used for printing documents (and photographs) do not last well. I still intend to print out a lot of my digital photos to add to my traditional album – that may be necessary if my p.c. is wiped out by EMP or plagued by future incompatibility; but what is the point if the prints will not last? My conversationalist is still using a 35mm camera with traditional film.

After the main course I chatted to the person opposite me. Her work as a consultant focuses on helping teams of people in remote places to communicate with one another. She encourages the embracing of modern technology, taking people beyond mere web-conferencing to the on-line virtual world of Second Life. She sees such use of technology as essential in today's environmental crisis. She is the first person to have offered to help me sort out the wardrobe for my avatar. I have not accepted yet!

I am struck by the contrast between these two conversations.

I am very aware that as a personal and business coach I value working with people face to face: yet I use e-mail to arrange the appointments, and I am typing this on a computer now. It alarms me when I visit offices and see people glued unergonomically to their computer screens even to the exclusion of a lunch break.

It seems to me that in today's society we risk being turned into machines by the machines, that is to say we become dehumanised. What it means to be fully human is a bigger topic than I allow for in this one article however, as I attempt to think through the extent to which I should use automated e-mail newsletters (etc.) to promote my business, I feel that I first need to envision the way in which a healthy society makes use of technology, and be faithful to my vision. A challenge in Finding True North!

“Technology is a great servant, but a poor master.” In times of technological change, and when “the market” wants us to adopt new technology for its profit, what values do we need to hold on to use technology to grow in our humanity rather than to be dehumanised?


I suspect that people have been asking similar questions since before the Atom Bomb, and maybe not enough during the Industrial Revolution. Paul Vallely impresses me with his writing, and I note his article in the Church Times of 6th November 2009. He comments on the row over the sacking of government scientific adviser David Nutt and concludes that the problem is not our contempt for science, but that scientists condescendingly do not (always) see that “science must be subjected to social values not be a substitute for them.”

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