The Technology Understanding Gap

Please go read this incredibly insightful reflection by Eugene Eric Kim. If you’re too lazy, I’ll clip the most important part for ya:

The following day, I co-led a session on this topic with AngusParker. Two of the participants were dealing with the specific challenge of connecting members of a national network of leaders in reproductive health, so we used that as a case study. We decided to use Clay’s contention to frame the problem, resulting in this whiteboard:

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2349/2234544757_9be3c47dd2_m.jpg

What do you notice about this picture? Obviously, the Tools column is completely empty. That’s a dead giveaway that I’m facilitating this discussion. (That and the horrific handwriting.) Figure out the basics first. Don’t let the question about technology drive the discussion. During the discussion, one of the participants asked, “What tools can we use?” I responded, “Let’s not worry about that now.” So we kept talking and talking, and I noticed the two non-technical participants in the group squirming like crazy. So I stopped, noticed how gaping the Tools column looked, and said, “You’re uncomfortable about not having discussed the tools, aren’t you.” She nodded. “Don’t worry about it,” I responded. “The tools part will be easy, once we figure everything else out.” “Easy for you, maybe,” she said. “You already know what goes there.” That was not quite true, but I got her point, and the force of it struck me so hard, I had to stop for a moment. I looked at the gap, and I saw possibilities. She looked at the gap, and she saw a void. That was upsetting for her. It made it hard for her to think about the other aspects of the problem. It made me realize how much I take my technology literacy for granted. But it also created an opportunity to discuss how easily we are sidetracked by technology. “Tool” does not have to mean software, and making that assumption prevents us from exploring other viable, possibly better solutions.

I’ll add in a kicker: too often, people who are less technically literate think that if they only fill in the right answer in that middle “Tools” column, that their problems will all be solved. When, really, it is more important to get the Promise and the Bargain right. I like to call this pattern “magical tool thinking.” It results in a lot of wasted time and effort trying to identify that magical, right tool — effort which should go into thinking about process, objectives and how to sustain the non-technological parts of the organizing effort.