Gratitude Challenge – #28 Technology

The Gratitude Challenge’s twenty-eighth topic is “Technology”.

Oh yeah, technology.

One person’s love, another person’s nightmare.

Bringing us closer together with video calls across continents, separating us when everyone at the dinner table is just absorbed by their phone.

Findings us love in dating apps – and taking it away as we can’t commit, being overwhelmed by infinite options that are just a swipe away.

Most people could not live without it anymore. Technology brought novelty to many traditional areas as well. Music instruments can be produced more cheaply, at higher quality and consistency – even new instruments such as synthesizers are possible.

But what is technology anyway? Is an acoustic guitar not also some kind of technology already? Indeed, even a stone as a tool to cut or make fire is technology. As Wikipedia explains:

Technology is the application of knowledge for achieving practical goals in a reproducible way. The word technology can also mean the products resulting from such efforts, including both tangible tools such as utensils or machines, and intangible ones such as software.

As an IT consultant – and probably for many other people, too – the first technology that comes to mind is information technology and this is what I want to focus on. Because I think hardly anyone would argue that the application of fire in daily life was a “bad” technology.

Today’s technology is awesome in many ways. It allows me to work location-independently, and the fact that IT is failing us all too often secures me a stable income as the guy who knows how to fix and preferably avoid it in the future.

Then again, especially with my focus on IT and OT security, it can be scary to know, how much could go wrong. Even critical systems that are no connected to another network at all can be a target, for example when the US and Israel implanted a computer virus into Iran’s systems that controlled nuclear centrifuges. Or when Russian mercenaries cause a fuel shortage in the US by encrypting the systems needed to control an important pipeline.

Or to move from OT security to IT: The recent revelation that Chinese hackers got hold of a critical master access key in Microsoft Azure, granting them ample access to many different clients, including government agencies, and their respective secrets. Or how Russian hackers with clever supply chain attacks piggybacked their way into more than 14,000 different businesses and governments around the world.

ChatGPT and other large language models are certainly not self-aware as some people seem to be afraid, but they easily can flood the internet with well-written fake news, making it impossible to know what is true and what is not. Information war par excellence. And just when we think we have figured it all out, something like Log4Shell comes around the corner:

The list could go on and on and on and…

It can be chilling. It can also be tiring to be part of this cat-and-mouse “game”. A game that costs lives, for example in digital warfare, or when civil infrastructure such as water purification plants or hospitals are targeted.

Living in Taiwan, I find it somewhat disturbing that especially in bigger cities I’ll always be on CCTV – there are surveillance cameras e-very-where. I can only imagine how bad it must be in China now. But the ironic phenomenon is of course that many people will indeed feel safer being under surveillance 24/7.

“I have nothing to hide”.

A sentence I hear all too often. And I understand, it’s such an easy way out of all this annoying privacy theatre. Fine, just get my data already, this is all getting so complicated.

But well, just because you think you didn’t do anything bad, doesn’t mean other people should see it, no? Or do you leave the front door open while sitting on the toilet because well, it’s nothing illegal, so nothing to hide…

Moreover, it’s a short-sighted “relief” to simply not care, because what if the next government suddenly decides that something you did in the past is now illegal? What if homosexuality gets punished again? What if your government decides to implement a social credit score, as China, in a dystopian move, already did? Will all your available data really only be “positive” for such score? How would you know in first place, without understanding the algorithm behind it?

I know people who made their whole home “smart” and told me in excitement about it. While I am impressed by their dedication, the result itself for me is nothing I would feel envy for. People ask me why despite having a well-paid job I live under rather basic conditions, in a very local area, when many expats rent high rise apartments in the city centre, driving nice cars, and getting the latest tech gadgets.

It is simply not important for me.

I value the immersion with local culture and people. I never cared about fancy apartments, my phone just needs to do its job, I don’t understand why people would spend a fortune on a thing on four wheels which just needs to bring me from A to B.

Granted, I have other passions and I appreciate the technology I use for music making. But even there, I think the most important developments have been made a long time ago. I don’t see us humans as “technological beings”. Even though we nowadays can be quite detached and estranged from nature, we are still a part of it. This is an important part of my understanding for consulting, too. Many people in the tech industry try to solve client problems purely technically. While technology certainly cannot be ignored in technology consulting, I prefer to use an approach that follows Gerald Weinberg’s insight:

No matter what they tell you, it’s always a people problem.

Weinberg, G. M. (1986). The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully. Dorset House Publishing Company, Incorporated.

Perception is reality, and I won’t change my customers’ perception just by throwing some fancy tech at them. No matter how analytical the person, we all have emotions and “feel” if something is wrong or right – that’s where I try to place my consultative practice. People first, technology second.

Sure, it is impressive to see our abilities to create the most complex machines. But I’m more fascinated by noticing small details in my own or someone else’s breath, by the sound of the waves, by wind blowing through leaves. The spec sheet for the latest technology? I’m ok…

I don’t want to sound super enlightened here, if my connection to earth, myself and my ability to rest in myself was measured in geographic distance, I would probably still be struggling to reach the right continent even. But I think the true fascination and love for the basics that nature provides is inherent in us humans. If we really try and pay attention, we will feel very fulfilled with the smallest and most simple details.

Looking at the sea. Realizing how the pretty white-foamy waves are further out, but how the typical calming “sea sound” is created by the muddier waves that are breaking at the stony beach.

Nature can be so simple; it eases our eyes and mind to just see plain nature. Trees, water, sun. But then it is also incredibly complex. We can focus on smaller things. And smaller things. Go more into detail. It never ends. Complexity in simplicity.

I’m grateful for having many technologies in my life that make it easier, safer, and more comfortable to lead my daily life. But I’m also thankful to the moments when I find enough mental calmness to just be and enjoy the beauty of the moment. The simply things that are always there. For which we do not need money. For which we do not need to work. Which we do not need to buy. Where it’s not a rat race to have the latest and greatest and compete against others.

We are all together on this planet, sharing the human experience. I’m grateful that I’m not alone, but with eight billion fellow human beings, countless animals and plants who altogether can try to make their best out of their existence. Be it with technology or without. This sounds awfully cheesy, but well… it’s still true.

This article was written by Fabian

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