(Update: Watch the livestream of Skeptech on Wednesday, May 24, starting 7pm Eastern.)

Friends, we need to talk. About tech.

There's a problem brewing in digital technology. You're probably aware of it - the problem is big, it's systemic, and it's growing. We can name some of its aspects: Surveillance. Manipulation. Addiction. General creepiness.

I've been watching these issues grow and develop for a decade. Ten years ago, seeing people suffering under email overload, I published Bit Literacy - hoping to teach people crucial skills, seeing as tech companies weren't doing the job. But it got worse: the tech industry has found ways to lock users in, launch and promote addictive tools, and build surveillance systems that track users' private communications and actions, often without users' knowledge or consent. It's a totally different world from when I started Creative Good in 1997, naively optimistic about the internet's potential to improve the world.

The emerging tech reality has been hard to ignore while running my Gel conference in recent years, trying to spotlight innovations that I'm excited about. The early years of Gel were highlighted by the first-ever stage presentations of Wikipedia, Khan Academy, Duck Duck Go, and others - great projects benefiting the world - but in recent years it's been harder to find similarly inspiring projects. My customer experience consulting at Creative Good, as well, has felt pressure to become analytics- and algorithm-based, rather than human-based. (I wrote about this in January.) My most recent book, Customers Included, makes the case for good qualitative thinking, and basic human respect for users, but both ideas increasingly seem out-of-step with our new tech reality. So I feel the need to take action.

The world deserves better technology. You deserve better. And goodness knows, we've been promised better from the tech industry. So today, I'm going to do something about it: I'm launching a new project called Skeptech.

Skeptech will be a platform to...
question today's digital technology,
explore how it operates, often to users' detriment, and
discover ways that all of us - product teams and users, too - can create and use better technology that works toward users' long-term benefit.

In particular, I want to spotlight people and projects that are doing things right, proving the viability of a different approach:
people (thinkers, writers, innovators, and product teams) that deserve more exposure for the good work they're doing
tools (apps, sites, communities, even games) that create genuinely good experiences - they do exist! - and
media (books, podcasts, feeds, and articles) that are worth paying attention to, as this is a broad, deep, and swiftly developing issue.

Skeptech kicks off in two weeks with our first gathering: on the evening of Wednesday, May 24, both in person (update: sold out) and via livestream (starting 7pm Eastern on Wed May 24). Skeptech will feature these speakers: Douglas Rushkoff, Natasha Dow Schüll, Vicki Boykis, Liz Berg, and Ken Freedman - and myself as host. (See all Skeptech info.) We'll also include Q&A for attendees to contribute. Skeptech is the Gel conference for this spring - like a mini-Gel evening event! - so I hope you'll join us.

Our friends at WFMU, the freeform radio station run by Skeptech speakers Ken Freedman and Liz Berg, are providing the venue and the livestream. The whole event is a benefit for WFMU, so in addition to the ticket revenue going to the station, I hope livestream viewers will donate to WFMU as well. (Just click "pledge now" on the event page or the livestream page.)

But now I have to ask. Are you with me? Skeptech is an experiment, and it will depend on the community to succeed: Are you on board?

If so, here's what you can do right now:

1. Spread the word about Skeptech: copy and paste this into your Twitter/Facebook/favorite social media account:

Tech got creepy, so @markhurst launched Skeptech: http://creativegood.com/blog/tech-creepy-launch-skeptech

2. Watch the Skeptech livestream (from 7pm to 9pm Eastern), via the livestream page. More info at the Skeptech site: skeptech.info

3. Subscribe to my email newsletter and/or my Twitter feed. (There are also Skeptech Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook feeds.)

4. Let me know your thoughts: Ideas, suggestions, comments? You can email me or post a comment below.

I appreciate your support - and I hope that, through Skeptech, we can change things for the better. -Mark Hurst

  1. I like the idea, Mark, but the name “Skeptech” leads me to think that you will be challenging those who are doing the wrong thing. And I think you should.

    It’s fine to “spotlight people and projects that are doing things right,” but I think this is only half the battle. You should also spotlight bad actors. For maximum effect, we should have both the carrot and the stick.

    • Thanks, Brian. I will certainly be naming specific tools and companies (much as I do in “Customers Included”) that are engaging in negative practices… but I want to do it in a way that encourages the companies to do better (i.e., always offer a carrot, never *just* a stick). Appreciate your encouragement!

  2. What a treat to see womens’ names in the list of speakers. This sounds like great work I will spread the word.

  3. brian mccarthy says:

    A worthy cause, Mark. Thank you for taking up the mantle. I look forward to learning more and hopefully participating. I too believe that collectively we are losing control of this powerful tool. It is analogous in some ways to what followed after the initial splitting of the atom. The responsibility of this power requires vigilance and action to ensure it is used for the benefit of society.

  4. The Ambassador says:

    Sounds intriguing. Yet another of the myriad reasons to feel glad to be back in NYC fulltime, Mark Hurst events. Where can we find the address of the event?

    • Thanks, Ed, hope you can make it! Venue for the May 24 event is WFMU’s Montgomery Hall, 43 Montgomery Street, Jersey City, NJ. (Directions from Manhattan: go to the Oculus, at the World Trade Center/Park Place subway, take the PATH train one stop to Exchange Place, then walk two blocks to 43 Montgomery, next door to Milano’s Deli.)

  5. Carolyn Dobbs says:

    Hi Mark,

    I applaud you for starting this effort, as tech has become increasingly focused on growth vs. value to the constituency, often at the hidden cost to customers. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend in person or during the livestream session. Will there be a recording?

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