On a recent Zoom call one of my fellow participants said 2021 was going to be the year of the “Digital Human.” There was a moment of pause, and for a brief second, you could see the words lingering in the air as everyone tried to comprehend exactly what that was supposed to mean. How do we become digital? Will I be replaced? Am I still relevant?
In that moment, I was quickly reminded how much words matter. This vague buzzword - the kind which we are all too fond of in the tech industry - was too fearful for people to internalise as it might have been intended. Without a clear definition, each individual brings their own interpretation.
Sometimes that’s a good thing. Looking at the words in this picture, it’s very likely that each one invokes a slightly different response from all of us. While we may have a different association, memory or feeling connected to them, we can all agree that they are aspirational and positive. Collectively we can get behind their message even if we interpret it differently.
Problems begin when there is not enough clarity in our words which leaves a vacuum for detractors to fill. We have seen it during the pandemic when a lack of information and understanding turned into conspiracy theories. We also see it in our own industry. Data centres are under constant scrutiny and when we don’t speak up to provide clarity on the value and benefit the industry brings to Ireland, the space gets filled with negativity.
During the most recent Host in Ireland webinar, Changing the Way We
Live, Work & Play: Global Data in 2020, we discussed the role of data as one of the biggest drivers of social behaviour of all time. First there was the printing press, then the Industrial Revolution, and today, the digital revolution. Our moderator, Dr. Julie Albright, talked about the double helix of DNA where technology and behaviour are intertwined - technology drives behaviour and behaviour drives technology - and how deeply embedded these two things are with one another. Especially for the younger generations of digital natives, they are seeing many aspects of their lives become untethered from traditional institutions and practices. The pandemic accelerated it, but it is a fundamental change in how we live our lives.
As a stubborn digital optimist, I see all of this as progress in the right direction. I also believe it is our collective responsibility as technologists to guide the rest of the world through these changes in a way that is not threatening. There is no doubt technology goes through revolutions, but the people who consume technology evolve more slowly along with it. Revolution can be a scary word if we don’t explain it correctly.
For 2021, I am tasking my industry peers to speak up and provide clarity about our purpose as an industry. Our words matter and our tone matters, so we need to use them wisely. The past 10 months have shown data centres as critical infrastructure like never before. As a society, we need data and it's growing at a phenomenal rate. The data in the centres itself is making us much more efficient, so we need to embrace that. But within the industry there are legacy systems that need to be integrated into our new “always on” online world. Most importantly, we need to harness the electricity that's been converted to renewable to power this digital future. It’s going to require a holistic approach from the industry and the policymakers, as well as consumers, to drive forward a cleaner cloud than we have today. These are big tasks ahead of us, but I am confident in our ability to find success and know the rewards will be great.
Host In Ireland Founder & President