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I'm scared of tech (Back to the Future)

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I’ve come to the conclusion that I know nothing about technology, and it’s freaking me out.

I mean, I spend time on social media – too much on Facebook and occasional rants on Twitter about cars that nearly crash into my bike – use GPS apps to track my running and browse Wired every now and then. But I am otherwise utterly clueless about what’s next and frankly slightly averse to it. Will I pick up wearables? I’ve worn contacts for nearly 20 years, so I can’t imagine going back to glasses that make you look like a cyborg. Ditto to talking into my watch, Go-Go-Gadget style. The Internet of Things just makes me think it’s one more thing to worry about breaking. Is there a repairman you can call to fix The Thing if it goes down? And what about Big Data? How much do companies really know about me just by monitoring what I buy?

Tech confuses me because I don’t know what I am supposed to pay attention to and what’s a fad. If I adopt a new device now, will it still be The Device next year? Everything changes so quickly that I feel like I’ll never catch up – but I don’t want to be left behind.

So I sympathise with the cabbies who went on strike a few weeks ago in London. They were protesting TFL’s licensing of Uber as minicabs; Uber charges passengers a rate based on distance traveled, instead of a flat fee, and black cab drivers want Uber cabs to be licensed as they are and held to the same rates. They feel that Uber is beating them at their own game.

But really, the protest was against how something that was once a given (the black cab business model) is being disrupted by the world changing around it, and how cabbies aren’t in control of their own livelihoods. You don’t really need to do The Knowledge to drive a cab in London anymore, because there are satnavs. You don’t really need to own your own cab, because there are tons of companies to drive for. And the cabs themselves are changing too, in design, colour, emissions technology. It’s very possible that one day there won’t be London black cabs on the streets at all – in New York, taxis will shortly go from being yellow to green.

So I’ve been thinking about what I (and London’s cab drivers) can do to feel better about our quickly changing lives.

There are a few easy shifts we can make right now that will help us sleep better.

First, I think we should stop being afraid. So many amazing things have happened because of seemingly small technological advances, and there are so many more to come that shrinking in fear of tech will limit how far we can go as a society. The opposite of being afraid is being confident and brave, and I think we can all be brave and start to view the big expanse of ‘technology’ through the lens of what positive changes it can make. For instance, I am really inspired by how technology is making important things like education available to people who couldn’t afford them before. I am really excited about 3-D printing of organs for transplants. I am really energised by the promulgation of free speech through new channels. I am really optimistic about how some of the world’s biggest problems can be solved by innovations that couldn’t have been dreamed of just a short time ago.

And in a related point, I also think that we can take comfort in going slow. It may seem that things are changing so quickly that we as human beings can’t keep up, but relatively it’s all moving fairly glacially. We just have to look back at movies made 30 years ago, like Back to the Future, to see how our imagination runs much faster than actual technological advancement. Marty McFly went to 2015 and found hover boards, mobile trash cans, power shoelaces and holographic movie theatres all in wide use; it’s possible we will see these innovations emerge next year, but probably not to the extent that we saw on-screen. It’s even more reassuring if you look at films made in 1965, thinking about 2015 – we’re not wearing silver suits or populating the moon (yet). So whilst we can imagine a world that’s radically different due to technology, in reality we’re all, en masse, a lot slower on the uptake than we thought we would be. And that’s okay.

Finally, lets all just be curious. So many studies point to ongoing learning and playing as a way to keep the brain and body young, but also as a way to stay relevant. So just trying new things, investigating new developments, and dabbling in tech is a start. My guru in this is my 86 year old grandmother: she recently added me on LinkedIn. Until recently, I had no idea why; at her age, I thought, she has no reason to join LinkedIn. And then I realised, she’s just checking it out – and why not? She’s not limited by an invisible boundary that this network might not be for her, or not relevant to who she is. Lets not think about technology as something for someone else, or potentially not relevant to your world because of your age, gender, job, or some other invisible restriction. The beauty of technology is that’s democratic, open and available to all of us.

Of course there will be downsides, and real negatives that we will need to confront together as a society. Technology will change sectors, jobs, livelihoods, our homes, our health – everything. But ignoring it or resisting it won’t make it disappear. Instead, we need to challenge it – together. Let’s discuss why Facebook experimenting with our emotions doesn’t feel right. Let’s discuss how we feel threatened by multiple screens and devices in our daily lives. Let’s discuss why our kids spend more time online than off. And of course lets discuss what mobile technology means for the transportation industry as a whole, and cab drivers in particular. What we’ll ultimately find is that technology will bring us together, rather than rip us apart – we’ll find more ways to share, connect, learn and grow, online and off, through technology in the future.

Therefore, I’Ve decided to embrace technology holistically. I know I won’t ever understand coding and the nuances of 3D printing, nor will I follow the latest software update releases with the excitement of some of my peers, but I won’t ignore them either. I am trying to see how tech can positively influence growth, change, and the future for business and society. And I’m trying to empathise with those who haven’t made the leap I have – some won’t ever get here, and that’s okay. But at the end of the day, technology is part of who we are as humans. Like it or not, we’ll always keep innovating, making, thinking, creating, and expanding. Because if you can’t beat em, join em.

And besides – I’ll bet my lunch that London’s cabbies organised their strike over email and texts.

Danielle Zezulinski is Account Management Coach and Account Director at Wolff Olins London.