Technology: use it wisely

Amid the wedding celebrations this past weekend I chose to catch up on some reading and thinking. A couple of things caught my eye.

The first was a sub-head from Saturday’s Times, pinned to a piece from that literary gadfly Giles Coren. It read: “our inboxes will soon be free from unwanted junk mail so let’s follow it up by opting out of the whole digital world.” My whole being yelled “Yes!”

But then reality kicked in and I calmed down. The GDPR (which starts from this week) is a good idea but it won’t protect us from the intrusions of the digital world. Rejecting the digital is a Luddite attitude, like smashing up spinning jennies in the 18th century. Neither possible nor sensible.

And then my eye caught something else, a piece in a rather obscure but nevertheless important journal, by a more heavyweight bug than Coren.

Jameson M. Wetmore here writes a fascinating piece titled Amish Technology: Reinforcing Values and Building Community. I’ve long admired, from a distance, the Amish; maybe it’s because I so enjoyed the movie Witness, where Harrison Ford plays a detective who lives for a while in an Amish community.

Wetmore utterly undermines our conventional view of the Amish, that they all are anti-technological farmer isolationists. Instead the Amish, he writes, “have rejected the idea that technologies are value-free tools”. They are not “fundamentally anti-technology…they have not banned all machines and methods invented in the past 150 years, but they do exercise extreme caution when dealing with new technologies.” The reason that the Amish are so suspicious of new technologies is that they regard them as a threat (until proved otherwise) to their fundamental values – their religion and community, simplicity, humility.

It’s impossible, impractical, and would be intolerable for all of us to adopt the Amish way of being. We can’t just jettison the digital world that we stand on the brink of, and nor should we. But as it spreads increasingly into our lives we would perhaps do well to be more conscious of it, and ask more questions about what social value a new app, for example, brings us. An Amish-attitude towards new technology might be a sensible idea.

Finally, tomorrow afternoon we are having our much awaited event, Post Carillion – The Role of the Third Sector in Delivering Public Sector Contracts, at the House of Commons where we will be launching our first 3SC position paper on The Crisis in Public Sector Contracting and How to Cure it. Our thanks to Alex Sobel MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Enterprise, for kindly hosting the event.

Christopher White, author of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 will be our guest speaker. Following the release of the findings of the two parliamentary Select Committees into the collapse of Carillion last week, I am sure he will be a stimulating and timely speaker for the evening.

I look forward to welcoming all of our guests to what I am hoping will be a pivotal event for the third sector and their role in the delivery of public service.

John Swinney, Chair