Presented by Steven McGeady • Managing Director, Drumlin Holdings, LLC
In May of 1996 I had been Vice-President of Intel’s Internet research group when I was invited to give a speech at Harvard’s first Conference on the Internet and Society. I talked about the opportunity that the Internet had to totally remake society and the risk inherent in that opportunity. I felt keenly that technologists should play an important role in forming meaningful and robust online communities that would responsibly guide the disruptive changes that were bound to occur.
This was four years before MySpace and Friendster, and eight years before Facebook, and in case you haven’t noticed, our online social networks have not really helped us be more civilized, combated fake news and disinformation, or tamped down hate speech. The question is ‘Why?’.
The fault lies with us -- the people who built these things. The time is long past when as engineers we could throw up our hands and claim that we were just building tools, we couldn’t determine how people would use them. It’s no longer enough to know how the code works, what the protocols are, or how to make the user interface snappy. We need to understand the sociology of use of the things we build, we need to minimize the unanticipated consequences of our tools, and we need to build into our tools the means and methods of creating responsible communities and a responsible society.
The things we build mirror who we are, and the successful tools often amplify that. Changing the nature of what we build may seem like a tall order for someone who’s simply part of a larger team embedded in an even larger company that’s just trying to become successful and make money. But it can be done and I hope to point to some strategies and tactics about how to play a responsible role in the future of social technology.
Steven McGeady is the Managing Director of Drumlin Holdings LLC, a private investment and technology consulting firm. From 2002 until November 2013, Mr. McGeady was Chairman of ShiftWise, a Portland-based healthcare technology company developing systems for online placement and management of professional healthcare workers. From 1985 to 2000, Mr. McGeady was Vice President at Intel Corporation, where he led numerous software, marketing, and investment initiatives for the company, including microprocessor software tools, early digital video algorithms and applications such as the ProShare video conferencing system, Internet infrastructure and applications, digital security software, and Internet-based healthcare delivery. Before Intel, Mr. McGeady was a software engineer and manager at Ann Arbor Terminals and Tektronix. He attended Reed College and lives in Portland with his wife and two children, and currently serves on the boards of the Portland Art Museum, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and Hack Oregon, a civic data collective.