In a haunt of mine, someone was pointing to, among other things, this article which talks about various examples of people in the tech industry being elitist, arrogant or myopic. The question that came out of it was what can we do, as members of the tech industry, to make the world a better place. I felt inspired to address this by correcting what I saw as flaws in the reasoning of the article and then continue by giving my advice.
There have always been examples of myopic and/or arrogant people in every industry, in every geography, in every time, under every flag, with every race, gender (or gender identification), color and creed. It is no big revelation that they can be found in Silicon Valley or in the tech sector. No matter how we design a social, political or economic system … there will always be myopic and arrogant people living and working within it. In short, one of my favorites of Niven’s Laws:
There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
– Larry Niven
Additionally, no industry is actually designed to make the world a better place. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something. It is not the job of any industry, the tech industry included, to make the world a better place. Industries are there to generate revenue and while they may make the world a better or worse place as a side-effect, that is not what they are for. For example, many people are outraged when Apple, Microsoft or Google do not stand up to the Chinese government and their allegedly oppressive laws. Companies are not moral beings. It is not their purpose to take a moral stand against oppression whether real or imagined. Companies exist to generate revenue for their owners … that’s all.
Now, while companies or industries are not moral beings, people are. So if you are asking what we, as human beings rather than as cogs in some corporate or industrial machine, can do to make a difference in the world … the choices are innumerable. Pick something you believe in that helps people less fortunate.
But don’t forget all the in-between times too. Be nice to your waiter. Drive slower and less aggressively. Cultivate a positive attitude. Hold the door open for other people. Let someone go in front of you in line. Smile. Be polite. Say “you’re welcome” instead of “no problem”. Laugh and joke with random strangers more. Talk to other people in the elevator. Read your waiter’s or barista’s name tag and thank them by name. In other words, be the change you want to see in the world.
The best part about all of this is that it has both nothing and everything to do with technology. What I mean is, it doesn’t matter if you’re hanging out by the water cooler or if you’re on Twitter or if you’ve become Lawnmower Man. If we actively strive, in everything we do, to make the world a better and more positive place … then it doesn’t matter what the industry is or does.