Levelling the playing field for tech to dazzle

Technology makes us button-pushers, engrossed in chats, music streams, news flashes and games

Sanjeev Gupta
Published: 31, May 2015

Sanjeev Gupta has lived and worked across the emerging markets of Africa, the Middle East and India over the last 24 years. During his career, he has developed extensive experience in the conceptualisation and execution of innovative and customised solutions for successful business models in emerging economies amidst the challenges of transformation and policy changes and the complexities of managing paradigm shifts. He has been actively involved in the Private Equity & Corporate Advisory sector and has established a strong reputation for strategic business development and implementation of hitherto untried models in new and fast changing markets. He was the CEO of South African financial services giant Sanlam Investment Management`s Emerging Markets Business till December 2010. Sanjeev is currently the Managing Partner of Emerging Opportunities Consulting , a firm he set up to focus on working with fast growing, consumer facing, family owned businesses looking for strategic and financial support . He is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Chartered Accountants, a Member of the Investment Analysts Society of South Africa and holds an AMP from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK. His hobbies include writing on business and macro-economic trends and playing golf. He enjoys presenting papers and is an active public speaker in various forums.

technology

Image: Shutterstock

Technology, they say, is a great leveller

For us urban types, that translates to quite simply smartphones, gigantic bandwidths, faster portals and an inane ability to stay in touch while not touching the one very next to us.

Last night, we went out for dinner. As a happy family, I might add.

After the cursory look at the menu (yes as a family of four, we are quite decisive and know our minds, or is it the stomach?), we settled down.

We were all happy and smiling, and not squabbling at all.

Except we were not looking at each other or even remotely trying to speak to each other.

The iPhone 6 in my 18-year-old’s hands, the iPad Mini in my 14-year-old`s, the newly acquired Samsung Galaxy (stars as we are after all) held aloft by my wife peering through her newly acquired 40-plus reading glasses and me with my ubiquitous and endangered BlackBerry, all conspired to make us look like the epitome of a happy family.

Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and emails – with occasional bursts of imessages and old-fashioned SMSs – all meant that we were heading for another lively and most satisfying evening.

And the icing no doubt would be when we all bundled up into the same car, as happy families do, and continue to look at those coloured screens and be cheerful and literally look radiant.

And nobody would need to hear any of the old-fashioned music either, as each one of us would be listening to our own music through our very own fancy headphones.

We would then all go back to our respective (in my case, the room of my respected wife) rooms and be overjoyed at yet another successful family outing.

No fights, no recriminations, no doubts, no anxieties.

What more can one possibly ask for in a family’s ‘must do’ evening?

Yes, technology is a true leveller, like a trusted friend really, come to think of it.

It levels us out into being button pushers and highly motivated individuals, engrossed in the endless pursuit of knowledge, music streams, news flashes and games.

It shows we care about innovation and support consumerism.

It displays impeccable qualities in terms of finding peace and quiet amidst crowds and noisy (and nosey) families.

Buddha would have been hard put to find the continuous, ‘me alone` Nirvana that we now all get at the switch of a phone.

So what if you miss the sunset or the chance to eavesdrop into other people`s gossip or for that matter, never had the chance to say hello to a complete stranger and widen both your experience and your network.

You have LinkedIn for that and Facebook to catch up on the gossip anyway.

And sunset?

You can’t be serious.

That’s what photo streams are about, isn’t it?

Now to my favourite people of all time.

The hardworking banking community.

For them, this ultimate levelling experience has unfortunately been quite a leveller lately.

I was reading, from the newsprint I might add, about how these Smart Alec traders messed up foreign exchange rates and Libor rates for mutually enriching experiences (when I was growing up, that meant something else).

In simple terms, being caught with your pants down is an English expression blessed by the Queen herself.

But being caught out with your smartphone data being used as evidence of your criminal intent and messages like ‘Fat boy, we did it for you’ or ‘Will he play with us’ or ‘Lets *&** that bugger up’ take the cake or possibly bake it too.

Did nobody tell them data is stored and can be retrieved?

Phone calls might have been better as I could have told them in the first place but a generation spawned on smart devices cannot be that smart, can they?

So let’s call this latest example of human avarice and plain old stupidity something else - other than obvious things like pants down, etc. Especially since they forgot to zip it up in the first place.

I think I will call it instead a case of ‘hands in the wrong place’ or perhaps better still ‘not knowing how to button things down’.

Over to you guys really, as nomenclature is so bereft of viciousness that I could hardly do it well.

A friend, however, said we should keep it simple and merely call it a case of kids becoming adults in a virtual world and believing that what’s virtual can never be reality.

I picked up an article the other day which spoke about artificial intelligence and how human-inspired intelligence can slowly start creating actions and decisions that the human mind will struggle to keep pace with.

The writer proceeded to therefore warn us of the unintended consequences of unbridled processing power and the risks of intelligence that is not human.

I worry differently however.

What if the original human, the clever ones particularly, forget they are humans and become slaves to their gadgets and gizmos?

What if our brightest and the best are taken up to accept virtual as reality and only believe what they see and not what they feel?

For those of us from my generation, Simon & Garfunkel`s Sounds of Silence resonates with me: ‘People talking without speaking, people haring without listening, people writing songs that voices never share…’

To what truth and what reality is technology heading us to when we don’t converse anymore (my family), we don’t think anymore (my analysts), even for survival (those traders) and don’t observe anymore what is around us (that’s the rest of us)?

If that’s a leveller, like all good steam rollers, let’s get ready to be levelled to the ground soon.

Into the lowest common denominator.

The one which gives me the latest and the best contraption technology has ever marketed to us believing masses.

Surely that will give me an edge?

Or merely a dose of old-fashioned ‘ground reality’.

As Tagore might be turning in his grave thinking that he wrote:

Where the mind is without fear …. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
…Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

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