It's 2031. A decade of action has seen tech companies embrace a new purpose. One that made our businesses sustainable and fair, supported diverse communities, and cared for our shared planet. What does this world look like?
Before we answer that question, we must recognize the stories we tell about our tech businesses now. And the silences within these stories.
If we begin to break these silences, we learn that:
Only 21% of tech professionals report that their company’s leadership teams are more than a quarter people of color
Only 19% of tech workers are women
If we continue business-as-usual, the IT sector will be responsible for 14% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2040 - up from about 1.5% in 2007
It is hard to accept that we are not perfect. Far from it. But that does not mean we should look past issues on which we have agency. In the words of Ursula Le Guin, “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”
But to imagine better futures for our businesses, we must recognize how we got here.
The growth story
"Distinctions must be kept in mind between the quantity and quality of growth" - Simon Kuznets, inventor of GDP
The technology industry’s story goes something like this...
We need an economy that grows exponentially. By creating technology businesses that grow rapidly we can attract investment and fuel innovation, creating jobs and generating wealth in the process.
On the surface, it’s compelling.
Growing economy. Innovation. Creating jobs. Check, check and check.
We failed to anticipate what would happen when “move fast and break things” broke things.
The problem-solving story
“Technology should serve our imagination. Not the other way around” - Rob Hopkins
So what replaces the growth story?
Perhaps it could go something like this?
We need a society that thrives. By creating sustainable technology businesses that solve problems, we can find purpose in our work and inspire innovation, creating meaningful jobs and establishing fair economies in the process.
With a new story fresh in our minds, let us imagine our role in it. Let’s imagine what the next ten years would look like if we ask the question; what if tech companies embraced a new purpose?
“All that you touch You Change. All that you Change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change.” - Octavia Butler
It's 2031. A decade of action has seen tech companies embrace meaningful work that helps to meet the needs of all people within the means of our planet. What does this world look like?
We listen more. To the voices we may not have heard in the past. Women, people of color, young people, communities impacted by material extraction, and local people, whether or not they are our colleagues. Because we understand our technology’s role in solving people’s problems, we are less fearful of talking about what we can do better. Breaking our collective silence helped us work together to address issues like data privacy, employee burnout, gender gaps, and carbon emissions.
We accept that creating equal opportunities for all does not simply mean educating others to become “technologists”, but recognizing that they have many things to teach us. Leadership defined by inclusion, not hierarchy.
The way we work has changed. The automation derived from the software we built is now harnessed in a fair and distributed way. It has opened up possibilities for shorter working weeks. Purposeless jobs are a thing of the past and work feels meaningful for many.
We recognize now that we became separated from the places we live and work in and we have begun to find our role in local spaces again. This grounding in place has worked in harmony with remote work and software to help us form bridging networks between physical and digital communities.
We’ve shown that a major sector economy can continue to solve problems for people while addressing the climate crisis. Thanks to investment in data centers powered by renewable energy, our carbon emissions are lower. We’ve also invested in sustainable user experiences built upon lower energy use and faster loading times, and our customers are more engaged as a result. Efficient software has reduced the thirst for new hardware and the material extraction it demands.
Perhaps most importantly of all, we’ve learned that a digital economy can still care about the world beyond our screens.
Positive, feasible, delightful
This is not intended to be a shopping list for change. Rather we’re joining a conversation happening all around us that asks our tech businesses to embrace a new purpose, one that puts people and the planet first. In the words of Rob Hopkins, “we need to be able to imagine positive, feasible, delightful versions of the future before we can create them”.
We would love to hear what your vision for 2031 would look like. What stories do you want tech businesses to tell? You can get in touch on Twitter and reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am sure that, in places, this is a somewhat clumsy attempt to start a conversation, but hopefully an attempt worth making. It’s an attempt made immeasurably better by the ideas of many people smarter than myself who I must thank wholeheartedly.