OPINION:  Technology - the biggest story of our time?

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When the editor of TIME tells you that the changes in technology are the biggest story of our lifetime - you stop and listen. It’s our story, ours to shape and lead as we wish and if you’re reading this blog it’s probably because you’re involved in this exciting change.

We are living through one of the biggest transformations to ever take place and with it brings challenge and opportunity.

Nancy Gibbs, Editor of TIME and 2015 John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow does not profess to be an expert on technology - in fact in front out of sold out audience she says it’s the first time she’s made this speech. Yet, Nancy is everything you’d want in a speaker.  Eloquent and articulate she knows how to tell a great story - it is her life after all. Telling stories and making sure the right ones are heard. As the first female editor of TIME with more cover stories than any other journalist I was in awe of her and she didn’t let me down.

TIME - who dropped the magazine part of their name when 50% of their readership were digesting their content on their mobiles - knows first hand the shift that technology can cause - both from a business but also a cultural perspective. Instead of focusing on the minute complexities of technological gain, Gibbs asked us to consider a broader vision in her talk ‘Our tools, our brains, our souls: the transformations of technology’.

Her talk began with an outline of changes in technology. Some quotes from leaders well before the web that were seemingly appropriate for the now, and examples of great digital disruptors like Uber and Airbnb.

“An explosion of convenience” Nancy summarized their innovation perfectly.

She reminded us that the web (appropriately sticky) is so full of data and information it’s forcing us to create new vocabulary.  Exabytes, zettabytes, yottabytes, what’s next? Some are voting for hellabyte or as some have said, a “helluva lot of data”.  But with all this information how do we take in the important material and turn it into usable knowledge?  For me, every day I’m trying to filter the influx of information - the graphs, the blogs, Facebook posts.

Technology is addictive.

When asked to admit if we were addicted to our devices 80% of the audience put their hands up.  When Gibbs talked about the pull of our cellphones, I could feel myself forced to face the fact I was probably less connected to her talk than I should be - after all I was live tweeting the entire event. As Nancy would say - my device won.

It’s a battle many of us living with social profiles feel. That pull of your phone, that need to share while desperately wanting to stay present and connected in that moment.

I recently wrote a social engagement paper for a board of directors recommending some new features and improvements to a website I was working on.  I dug up a bunch of insights but one really stuck with me - a Harvard study that concluded that sharing information activates the brain in the same way that food and money does and yes even having sex does.

Social validation feels good. A like on your post, a share of your tweet.  It’s science so don’t be embarrassed.

Our online friends are an audience to be entertained, there’s not many people in my world that still use social media to post truths.

“The easier it is to share, the easier it is to lie” said Nancy.

Our social identity is crafted. It’s strategic. It’s marketing and more than often it’s a lie.

Nancy talked about the studies behind sharing and the desire to share positive news over negative.  [You know what I’m talking about - the holiday you took where the sun shone the entire time or your amazing job with the best workmates.] People are more likely to share and embrace good news. We don’t like negative stuff. It’s why Facebook mucks around with their algorithm so you are less likely to see the sad posts and why we love pictures of cats.

Moving onto more serious topics Nancy’s next slide was a graph that showed more people in the world have access to a mobile subscription than clean drinking water.  It feels wrong but maybe it’s an opportunity? This topic deserves a much bigger conversation that I’ll leave to someone else.

With so much sharing, with everything recorded, Nancy questioned what historians will capture of this time. I’m pretty sure it won’t be my twitter feed that’s for sure.

It’s not all bad though. The ability to connect with like minded people no matter how obscure your interests are is very powerful. Open source sharing is amazing and the fact that all of us in that room choose to come together as a community instead of live streaming say’s something about our need to be together in the offline world.  Interacting and sharing our stories face to face.

Technology is the biggest story of our time.

Is this a blessing or a curse?  Technology offers us the chance to disrupt. To solve big problems from anywhere in the world.  I’m just pretty stoked to be working in a new role surrounded by people doing just that.  I’m also pleased we have women in leadership positions like Nancy. Those that respect the need for quality journalism, make tough decisions and embrace change.

I’m Jessica. The new Regional Manager of The BizDojo in Wellington. I’m addicted to my phone and I tweet voraciously. Come say hi on Twitter and tell me your story.