Technology as Multiplier

Recently I was in a workshop tantalizingly entitled "Think Wrong" at A Better World by Design 09, a three-day conference of designers, students, engineers, and others focused on using design thinking for social impact. Since I often run ideation workshops, it was fun to be on the receiving end for a change, free to think instead of facilitate. As part of the workshop, groups were charged with coming up with ideas for using 100 volunteers for good, in whatever way we could brainstorm in an hour. Given a "starter" word to spark some lateral thinking ("windowsill" in our case), a group of about eight of us set about rapidly making leaps and connections to arrive at some concepts.  

Reflecting on the exercise now over a week later, one element in our discussion that I found interesting was the extent to which we wanted to apply technology as a force multiplier—an amplifier—to increase the potential impact of our concept, ultimately titled "100x100" for that very reason. We looked at using social capital within social networks to get us from 100 to 100 million acts of good quickly, or using media to project recorded moments of kindness across cityscapes. We even looked at data visualization as a way to move people to join the action.
This struck me on two levels: 1) as a group of relatively young, digitally adept creatives, our thoughts immediately traveled to technology as a necessary component, albeit with human catalysts, and 2) virality was the assumed "fuel" with which our solutions would travel. Not all groups in the workshop used some form of technological delivery, but most did. And we didn't really even think about it. Were the solutions unnecessarily complex as a result? Not all—in most cases it was a tactical, if implicit, decision to get from A to B.
What this reiterates to me is, from cognitive and behavioral points of view, how careful we have to be not to use a sledgehammer when a screwdriver or even a toothpick might do. As we face increasingly low-tech problems we need to take a step back and calibrate the use of technology with other, less complex toolsets. Appropriate technology must be the first consideration—to phrase the Hippocratic oath, "first, create no complexity".

(Republished from Some Observers