Business in a Technologically Mediated World

By Jeff Pond

Technoreality and Modern Life

Automobiles are going electric and autonomous. Artificial intelligence algorithms that control those autonomous cars appear in a host of devices that populate our world from voice-activated digital assistants to music services to consumer devices. 
Digital privacy is under serious pressure as revelations of massive data harvesting techniques come to light. More business is transacted through marketplaces like Amazon, Envato, or Kickstarter than ever before. 
We consume vast amounts of digital media ranging from sports scores, cat videos, news flashes, and business intelligence online — mostly on mobile devices and from providers that we suspect are collecting our data with an all-seeing eye.
The reality of technology is this: to an unprecedented degree, it defines our world.


Interesting Times for Businesses

These technologies raise complicated questions. 
Is nuclear power an existential threat or an inexhaustible source of clean power. Is it both? Is China’s dead space station, the Tiangong 1, the unavoidable byproduct of humankind’s stellar ambitions or rudderless space junk inflicted on the planet by a single nation? 
Closer to home, we see online marketplaces for labor like Uber and Airtasker comprising a larger and larger slice of the market. As the Sydney Herald notes: “100,000 workers in Australia who use web-based platforms to obtain work on a regular basis, or about 0.8 percent of the workforce, however, these numbers are set to grow as web-based platforms cater for an increasingly wide variety of industries and professions.”

Big questions arise from these gig economy platforms. As workers forego superannuation contributions, do these online platforms create a future societal challenge as giggers age and require care — on the government’s tab. 
More to the point, how does a business owner make responsible decisions about employing a few Airtaskers to handle a major filing project? Certainly, this is a smart decision from a cost perspective, but what of the broader implications of this patronage?
What are the guidelines for business behavior at the outset of the third millennium? 


Business 3.0

The world is shrinking and expanding in unprecedented ways. It is becoming smaller as we become more intertwined and interconnected as a species and bigger as our collective knowledge grows and the cyber-world becomes expansive, pervasive, and curiously more intricate. 
As these transformations unfold, so does the imperative for thinking through and charting behaviours that can carry us through these exhilarating times. 


It Can Go Either Way, Depending on Your Perspective

Taking the long view of in the face of daily decision making and the inevitable trade-offs of time, expense, profit, and basic expediency is difficult. It takes perseverance and commitment. 
Terms like “tech” and “technology” are loaded with huge assumptions we’ve been dragging around since the Enlightenment when western thought embraced notions of progress as a universal good ushered in by more knowledge and tools that would make our lives more livable. 
By any objective measure, the world has become a safer, healthier, more educated place. 
For some background on this, check out Max Roser’s article in Vox, Proof that life is getting better for humanity, in 5 charts


PWC asserts that technology adoption will dramatically improve Australia’s economy, “Small business use of mobile and internet technology is currently limiting their ability to reach their full digital potential.”  
In other news, we hear that the consequences of technology are dire. 
Recently, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Amelia Lester asserted, “The digital giants know something’s afoot: that we are increasingly unhappy with how technology makes us feel.”
Yonatan Zunger, a former security and privacy engineer at Google, writes, “Computer science is a field which hasn’t yet encountered consequences.” He has compared software engineers to “kids in a toy shop full of loaded AK-47’s.” Safety and ethics are still elective, rather than foundational, to software design.


(Your) Business Decisions Matter

If the recent public outcry against Facebook’s data collection and privacy policies and it’s equally public response suggest anything it’s that business decisions matter. And they matter in a big way. 
While big companies like Coles, Google, Facebook, and Telstra (to name a few) have a significant impact with every decision they make; small and medium-sized business make a cumulative impact with their decisions. 
According to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Obudsman, 61% of businesses are sole traders with no employees. Micro businesses or those with 1-4 employees account for 27%. Small businesses with 5-19 employees comprise 9% of Australian firms. It’s worth reading the report Small Business Counts.  
Not only do businesses wield considerable power as a collective group, they are staring down the barrel of a world dominated by deeper and more complex questions than the species has faced since the dawn of the nuclear age. 
There are two things this series assumes: our decisions matter and that technology has the power to either improve or degrade our collective existence, depending on the decisions we make as business owners and members of the human species.