The multitude of technology choices

Usually we do not realise it, but our relation with technology is far from simple. Not only at the macro-level, such as the interactions between social media and society, but also for every individual. Today I’ll try to cast some light on our personal technology choices: How do we as individuals pick the “right” technology? What influences our decisions?

If you think about it, you can easily identify three basic reasons why an individual would engage with technology. You might have a demand and seek to get it fulfilled; a demander would say: I need something. You might want to develop and supply a solution; a supplier would say: I have something to offer. Or you might want to control unintended and undesirable effects of technology use; a controller would say: I want to steer a development.

Those three basic reasons are fairly straightforward. But things do get a little more complicated when you consider the various roles an individual could assume, which invites you to look behind, even beyond those basic reasons. There are of course different ways to define plausible roles, I’ll offer just six of them. While they are not perfectly delineated, I’m sure that they’ll get the message across.

Let’s start with demand: the essential role here is the consumer, somebody who just uses technology to get his problems solved. Everybody, each of us is a consumer in this sense, as we all have problems that technology can solved for us. That is the easy part.

Moving on to supply, we are faced with a set of different roles. The first is the researcher: somebody who develops novel technologies that don’t yet exist. This role is focused on maturing the new technologies that will be delivered in the longer-term future. The second supply role is the entrepreneur: focused on delivering new technology in the near-term future. The third supply role is simply business: delivering today what is needed today.

Finally, control. And again, there are different roles. One is the politician, somebody who exerts formal control by defining the legal, institutional, regulatory framework that encourages or discourages the development or use of certain technologies. The other role is that of the citizen, the individual who wants to push positive effects of technology and seeks to prevent negative impacts.

Obviously, there are many interactions between these different roles. It’s easy to see how the different roles in supply build on each other: the core of the innovation supply chain that moves from research through entrepreneurship to the business of delivering technology. Or think about the interaction between the roles of business and politician, which incorporates the macro-economic dimension of technology.  And there are many more such interactions.

We just have to realise that each of us plays several roles at the same time, and those might lead to opposing choices. Consider that each of us is both, a consumer and a citizen. While the consumer might be interested simply in always having the latest and greatest gadget at the lowest price, the citizen is likely to take the wider context into consideration, including employment, the environment, or potential health effects. Both roles influence the choices we’ll ultimately make.

And there’s yet an additional layer to take into account: how we actually seek to implement our choices. We could do that either individually or in a group; either formally or informally; at local, regional, national, or international level: just reflect upon a spectrum that ranges from small neighbourhood initiatives to privately organised cooperations to international non-governmental organisations, and complement that with more formal organisations like trade unions, industry associations, political parties, interagency collaboration or even intergovernmental fora. Any combination of the six roles and the various implementation approaches is conceivable, and together they generate a fairly complex pattern of our technology choices and how we pursue them.

I don’t intend to deliver a comprehensive story or perfect hierarchy of the different roles we play and the different choices we make. But I do hope that this little reference frame is helpful to become more aware of the different positions each of us might take in discussions with others as much as in discussions with ourselves, so that we make our individual decisions more consciously.


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