(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