The socially responsible tech company: Can big tech be fixed?

having a diverse leadership serves the leaders and members of an organization as much as it does its users.

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SOURCENationofChange

The recent revelations about Facebook’s reprehensible behavior only confirm what’s been constantly alleged, if not known outright, for years, namely that it does indeed put profits over the safety and welfare of its youngest and most vulnerable users. As a result, the nature of the Socially Responsible Tech Company, especially how to bring it about, couldn’t be more important.

In a previous blog[i], I examined four very different perspectives on Reality that are constantly battling, if not at war, with one another. The first is Short-Term Technical; second, Long-Term Technical; third, Long-Term Human-Centered; and fourth, Short-Term Human-Centered. Those who are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBPTI) immediately recognize these as four of the major Personality Types: Sensing-Thinking or ST for short; Intuitive-Thinking or NT; Intuitive-Feeling or NF; and Sensing-Feeling or SF. More importantly, they’re based on the pioneering work of Carl Jung.

They couldn’t be more relevant to the Socially Responsible Tech Company. But to do so, more than ever, they need to work seamlessly together.

The primary focus of those whose personalities is governed by a Short-Term Technical or ST perspective is on “hard facts” and “single, tightly-bounded, and well-structured theories” that are ”strictly verifiable.”  Anything else is thoroughly misleading and utterly without merit. 

The primary focus of those whose personalities is governed by a Long-Term Technical or NT perspective is on competing explanations and multiple theories. The world is far too complex to be amenable to one and only one set of facts, let alone a single, all-encompassing theory. For this reason, NT is not troubled by conflicting explanations and theories. Indeed, it continually welcomes them. They are key opportunities to expand our thinking and thus to learn even more than we could without them. They are indispensable in seeing The Big Picture and thereby in treating the System as a whole.

The primary focus of those whose personalities is governed primarily by a Long-Term Human-Centered or NF perspective is also on The Big Picture and the System as a whole. But it’s a completely different portrait. It’s on personal, not technical, connectedness. For instance, not only is it concerned with expanding Child Care for working parents, but support services for Seniors as well. It also includes increased aid for Education for Pre-K, K-12, through college and beyond. In short, the emphasis is on the Collective Mental Health and Well-Being of communities as a whole.

Finally, the primary focus of those whose personalities is governed by a Short-Term Human-Centered perspective is mainly on one’s immediate Family and close circle of friends. The primary concern is with that which improves one’s personal Quality of Life. Anything else is too abstract and pie-in-the-sky!

Consider how they apply to Facebook, and by extension to Tech companies in general.

When it comes to organizations, the central focus of ST is typically on their financial health and well-being. More often than not, it’s not just the “central focus,” but the only one that matters. Namely, profits come before anything else. As long as they’re substantial and keep flowing, how they’re obtained is not the issue. In other words, profits trump Ethics.

ST is also concerned with the Technology upon which a company is founded. Namely, will it operate flawlessly as intended? Is it reliable?

The central focus of NT is ensuring that all of the broader support Systems upon which a Technology depends are operable and reliable. For example, that a well-trained workforce is available.

But the heart of the matter rests with NF and SF. It’s one thing to proclaim lofty goals such as Facebook’s claimed desire to “Connect the Entire World,” but it’s quite another to have a business model that intentionally appeals to our base instincts such as anger and fear, and constantly reinforces them. Once again, it’s made worse by the fact that it’s done in the name of profits.

In short, to allow a Technology to proceed given that one knows that it produces serious harm is tantamount to criminal, if not out-and-out sociopathic behavior.

The gap between one’s words and actual behavior is nothing less than outright betrayal. No wonder why the resounding calls for regulation are so shrill. It’s one of the few things that unites both Republicans and Democrats.

In sharp contrast, what’s needed to help ensure that a Tech organization will actually be Socially Responsible? The short answer is that from the very beginning, all four perspectives need to work closely together. While the initial focus is of course on how a Technology can serve an unfulfilled human need, it has to be accompanied by equally serious concerns on how it can have deleterious effects on the most vulnerable stakeholders. But this means that from its very inception, more than Technologists alone must be a fundamental part of a company’s leadership. Ideally, it includes those with joint degrees in Technology, the Humanities, and Social Sciences. In other words, concerns with the harmful effects of a Technology cannot be left to chance or an afterthought. It has to be there from the start. If not, then the resultant mess will be so great that it cannot be cleaned up afterwards. Such is the case with Facebook.

Specifically, Chief Ethics Officers are a must. And, since all Technologies affect children whether directly or indirectly, experts in Child Development need to be key members of the leadership as well.

It not only means developing and sustaining mutual respect for different specialties and world-views, but abandoning the harmful distinction between so-called “hard and soft disciplines.” The issue is not one of “hard” versus “soft,” but of relevance.

In sum, having a diverse leadership serves the leaders and members of an organization as much as it does its users. It’s critical in helping them become Socially Mature. It’s the foundation of the Socially Responsible Organization.

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