How to Make the World a Better Place (in IT) ?


What would you do inside Information Technology to help the World be a better place? – is a question a friend and colleague of mine asked me today pretty much out of the blue. Having a day or two off is always a good thing. Keeps you away from talking about work related nonsense, and drives your attention towards things that really matter. For some those things might be having their cavities fixed at the dentist, for others it may consist of a long sleep and some gym time. However, while I do not deny the more or less marginal importance of these activities or “passivites” – as my dear colleague likes to call them – they only define OUR personal needs. Nothing more. It turns out human existence became – or remained, not quite sure what happened there – very egocentric and while in a truly advanced society that would be considered a virtue, in our society is the biggest flaw. One that rapidly and almost unavoidably leads us into a single direction called Global DISASTER.

Am I a pessimist? No. I am a realist, and the question I was asked today just made me realise it yet again. What others like to call technological, economical and social evolution, I see as involution. Not because I choose to see it that way, but because it is. Our society at this point in time is driven by one single word: money. In 2012 I doubt that there is anything that is not connected somehow to money. Be that food, housing, love, hate, religion, agnosticism, communication, freedom, incarceration and the list could go on pretty much forever. If you stop for one second to think whether there is something in your life that is completely unrelated to money, and you find one, be thankful for it, because whatever that is, it’s either a relic or something from a very uncertain future.

Money defines our existence. We work for money. Interesting, isn’t it? We actually forgot what it’s like to work for some other reason than money. We need it so much, that we use up all our mental and physical resources just to get it. Married to your job? Not really. You’re married to the money it brings, the bills it pays, and the gadgets it gets you. You’re a CEO at 45 and you have a 6 figure salary? How does that ensure anything? Having 10 million pounds in several bank accounts scattered all over the globe makes you sleep better? If it does, then you might be in for a huge disappointment. Your money is good only as long as this Planet can sustain all the idiots that think exactly the same way you do. You see, security is not ensured by piles of supposedly valuable pieces of paper with some old guys’ wrinkly face stamped on it. If tomorrow planet Earth for some reason decides to stop spinning for a millisecond, we’re pretty much all blown into oblivion. Unfortunately for you, oblivion doesn’t care about money at all. Earth does not know and does not give a rat’s ass about monetary value. It does not care about what iPad you have, and how much your Rolex is worth. Planet Earth is a live organism, but instead of being part of it, we foolishly choose to live a parasite-like existence.

Sir Richard Branson appears on today’s Facebook LinkedIn quote with “Dream big by setting yourself seemingly impossible challenges. You then have to catch up with them.” But you see, even our dreams are selfish. How often do you hear a youngster say “My dream is to make the World a better place.” Personally, all I can say, is that I have never heard this statement coming out of any young persons mouth, except in movies. Movies based on reality? Ehh… let’s not dissect that now. Sir Richard Branson has made his dream come true. He’s the face, the chairman and the founder of Virgin Group. He is pretty darn rich, he pretty much has everything that life as we know today can offer. Some might say he is too rich to even be able to enjoy life. I don’t know, and frankly, don’t care. It was his decision to become what and who he is, without doing any good to the Planet or to society in the meanwhile. Charities? Pa-lease… Giving a cup of rice and a pair of shoes to some Filipino or african kid, does not solve world hunger and poverty. Spending money on solving a global issue which exists only because of the sheer existence of money, while to many it seems noble, it is just plainly and ridiculously foolish.

I know you might think by now that I have wandered off from the initial topic of this article and decided to turn this into a Zeitgeist speech. No. I haven’t. While I do agree in some measure with the Zeitgeist movement, I often find their approach disturbingly similar to radical military-based politics. Force does not solve anything. Nor did it solve anything during the two World Wars. However, eradicating idiocracy, stupidity, lack of education or proper education, money oriented incentives – now that will solve everything.

So, finally I got to that point where I get to answer the question in the title. What can you do in IT to make the World a better place? You can do a whole lot. IT is not just a branch of industry any more. IT’s the only industry that really exists if you think of it. You can’t produce or manufacture anything without IT being involved in the process. Microchips are as common as sand on the beach, therefore programmers will find that their skills are needed in places they have never dreamed of using them. However, there’s one place where until recently, IT was only taught. Obviously, that’s education. It’s not even an industry, I hear you say, but I’ll let you reassess that idea for a moment. Approaching it in a more abstract way, schools are factories of robots. I know this sounds weird, but when a kid enters school the first time, he’s pretty much like an unprogrammed robot. He does what he is told by his parents and teachers. Then his teachers fill him up with information. Lots of it. Along the way, someone will ask this probably by now a teenager, what he wants to be, so he’ll say he wants to be a lawyer. Based on that decision, he’ll get more specialized information, and by the time he is 25 or 30, the programming process is finalized and he is ready to “enter the big bad World”. He’ll probably become a good lawyer, keep most of the criminals out of jail, he’ll have a Lamborghini, a third wife, four kids from 2 of the 3 marriages, a posh place in the city and a house in the Hamptons. He’ll probably die at the age of 68 because of prostate or any other cancer, but while being high on chemo he’ll whisper with a smile on his face with loved ones all around his bed “I did it my way”. They’ll probably even play this song at this funeral, after all it’s a classic, and it’s a Frank Sinatra.

But let me tell you what happened during the 68 years he walked on this Earth. Drug dealers stayed free, anti-environment companies kept cutting trees and dumping waste aimlessly, 100 people ended up homeless, another 500 died of overdose, 70 people got killed and injured because of high on drugs teenagers attacking them, 120 girls got raped, around 100K fish have died, a few million people all over the planet have died of hunger and diseases, a couple of dozen planes crashed, and the list could continue for another 10 pages. While he was “doing it his way”, everywhere else things got worse. You see, education does not teach about “our way” or “the Planet’s way”, it only gives the information about how you can make money. Education does not educate, but merely provides a blueprint for becoming rich. Some people manage to follow it, some don’t. Those who don’t are considered the losers, the brainless idiots, the poor guys who failed a few exams.

So, again, what can you do in IT to make the World a better place. In other words, how can your dream of becoming someone or something be intertwined with what the World needs? Now, that’s the proper question to ask a teenager. What does the World need from an IT guy or gal? Nicer games on iPads? Neah. Forget that. Another Amazon, Ebay or Facebook? Nope. What is really needed is IT personnel in education. Open education. Education that everyone can access. This involves pretty much every branch of IT, starting from the network and hardware guys up to the soft and web programmers, including the artistically challenged Photoshop and Corel designers. It’s all needed. IT is great in a way that it combines skills, and turns it into a common goal. If you’re a programmer, you’ll fit in just well with the other guys that are writing code for a next “Khanacademy” or “Coursera”. If you prefer wires and more solid stuff, you’ll find yourself at home in a server-room or an entire plant for that matter that powers the education platform. You’re more into web? Great! Web developers and designers are at the front-end of every web education app and platform. Whatever that would be, if you’re in IT, you can really make a difference by doing what you love for a very good cause, namely, reinventing and re educating society.

Education is where it all starts, and IT fits into this picture beautifully. Properly educated people, courses that are available from everywhere for everyone, teachers that can reach their students anytime, students that can reach other students from all over the World is what just might make this World a better place. Learn because you can, not because you have to. Find a job because it matters, not because it’s a means to an end. Work towards a common goal, not towards a new flatscreen or a new car. Reassess your priorities. Travel more to understand more. Educate yourself while educating others.

You see, properly educated people are less prone to becoming selfish pricks, the more they learn, the more they’ll understand that human beings need to take serious care of this Planet, because frankly, it’s the only one we have. When one by one people will come to this realization, due to being properly educated on how things really work, and what is really needed, and when that education is not tied in with a 100 grand loan by the age of 25, then jobs will be no more just a means to an end, and each and every one of us will live a truly meaningful life, and just maybe on your deathbed at 90 years old, you’ll be able to fall asleep for ever smiling and knowing “you did it our way”.

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