As technology and the behemoth-like firms behind it take an ever-increasing share of our time, income and attention, permeating every moment of our daily lives – even when we ring a doorbell – the very essence of what technology means to individuals is changing across the world.
Perhaps because of this, views of technology as the enabler of progress are now polarising, even for its most overt supporters.
Since 2013, we have seen juxtaposed tensions in our global trends – values around both data apathy and data sharing are on the rise, as are technophilia and technophobia. It seems the more we are exposed to technology, the stronger our feelings become – one way or another.
In this sense, our use of the internet and related technologies is the subject of intense debate about the economic, social, political and psychological consequences, and while we are feeling the changes and benefits of connected life, we often seem lost in dealing with some of the unfolding effects of these new phenomena. Every year new studies reveal the negative consequences of over-use of the internet and social media.
This tension is felt by tech companies, too – the last ten years have witnessed the rapid growth of technology corporations, now the richest and most influential in the world. But while their products and services are desired and help people access more and more varied services, their practices have come under increased scrutiny by governments and citizens alike, and there is widespread demand for more state regulation.
But what does this mean for boards and governments?
In emerging economies, whether they came out of the post-war 1950s in Europe or are part of the current crop of fast-growing Asian or Latin-American nations, technology equals progress.
To many in the west, China’s surge in technophilia resembles a new form of control, both personal and from the state
At first glance, China’s all-out push for technology and record-breaking scale offers a counterpoint. It is the only non-western nation to have produced global and increasingly dominant platforms. To many in the west, China’s surge in technophilia resembles a new form of control, both personal and from the state. For instance, WeChat, the single catch-all app which offers an incredible array of services, from payment to chat to m-commerce – has become a one-stop shop for all aspects of online life. From an Asian mindset, however, technology now equals normal life. This is illustrated by Japan’s very high level of acceptance of robots as daily assistants to common tasks.
For governments around the world, the race is to grasp major opportunities for all citizens, not just a small elite.
But in light of societal ambivalence about technology, even with widespread adoption, convincing citizen and consumers of the authenticity of their motivations will be a major challenge for tech companies and governments alike and, in turn, a decisive strategic and competitive advantage for those getting it right. Demonstrating that technology can equal trust may become a decisive factor to drive growth.
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