3 Pillars of Good Technology

I admit. I’m not always the earliest adopter of new technology. I’m more at the front end of middle adopters. As a techie with a couple of decades of experience under my belt, this was hard for me to come to terms with on a personal level. FOMO, especially in the tech world, is real and there’s always the fear of showing my age (I’m 48). But here I am, in the middle of my career and it’s time to be honest with myself. Like a good soup, chili, or stew, technology is often better after it’s been left on the slow cooker overnight to rest and let those flavors mature.

As a long-time disciple of creating tech for good and a student of living sustainably, I’ve established a personal mission for how I approach my professional work in designing, building, and growing digital products. Wherever possible, I apply my personal pillars of good technology.

1. Technology should be designed with and for humans

Good technology should adhere to the principles of human-centered design. If you’re not actively designing with the humans who represent your customers and what they’re trying to accomplish, then you’re limiting your ability to create a positive impact and increasing your potential for negatively impacting users, their community, and the planet.

2. Technology should be sustainable for the organization

Good technology should be sustainable for the organization that depends on it. This could be your client or if you’re full-time, your company. A designer, for example, thinks about how the organization manages design assets and documentation across the organization’s digital products. Software engineers and tech leads, look at the cost and extensibility of the software platform, the cost and difficulty of hiring analysts and engineers to support the tech, and the cost of finding solutions to problems within the framework, or platform’s ecosystem.

3. Technology should be sustainable for the planet

Good technology should be sustainable for the planet by minimizing negative externalities as much as possible. Does the product you're building, licensing, etc., have clear, transparent sustainability goals and reports? Examples include, the Salesforce Climate Action Plan and Asana’s Environmental Goals and Commitments. Smaller organizations can easily join programs such as 1% for the Planet which helps direct funds to environmental partners around the globe.

The problem we’re dealing with is that our tech industry is responsible for creating too many negative externalities to be sustainable. Whether it be the manufacturing and disposal of plastics used in physical products (Coolest Cooler), the energy cost of digital products (Cryptocurrency), or the cultural polarization created by our social media, news, and advertising feeds (Facebook).

Risks and benefits of not being an early adopter of technology

Not being on the bleeding edge of technology can have costs, especially for designers, product managers, and software engineers. You may find that you’re not the top candidate for that self-driving car company. Alternatively, you may find yourself being a stronger candidate for companies that are investing in sustainability and have integrated sustainability into their business model. B Corporations have done this for years.

There’s also the personal feeling of FOMO that comes from seeing your friend’s latest iPhone and wishing you had that better camera. Those concert and sunset shots are just so much better than mine. To me, FOMO is HARD! There’s not much I can say here. Everyone needs to evaluate their relationship with tech FOMO and if you’re an early adopter, try to find ways to offset those negative externalities.

If you’re an early adopter, designer, or coder of virtual reality products, I don’t judge you — there are some amazing opportunities for this tech in education, attending performances, and reduction of business travel. I do challenge folks in this sector to work towards building experiences that help customers thrive in and out of the virtual world and not just measure success by how long folks use your product.

As the Internet enters its third decade of private sector use, I encourage designers and creators of technology to embrace one thing. As time moves forward, so does the breadth of what technology can and will do for us and our planet. It has the potential to enrich our lives and solve some of the biggest problems we face today. Alternatively, it can also create negative outcomes for us and our planet. So, for all you middle adopters, be confident in this! Take a breath, check your FOMO, and take pleasure in the second version of that product.