More than 50 percent of business trips and 30 percent of office days are gone forever, Bill Gates predicts. Many trend studies confirm the same future scenario. You don’t have to be a great forecaster to declare 2021 the year in which rapid developments and associated investments in the home workplace environment are rampant. Predicting what the most successful innovations in that domain will be is a lot more difficult. The great lack of working from home is the lack of ‘presence’ outside the goal-oriented video meetings. The spontaneous creativity and serendipity that arises when random team members bump into each other in the office are under considerable pressure. The billion-dollar games industry, larger than the film and music industries, offer a solution for working from home 3.0. As if the virtual world of Second Life, which was launched seventeen years ago, is getting a second life. But different.
Many start-ups are now working hard to build new virtual environments in which people come together to work and meet each other spontaneously. Branch is such a startup. They provide a virtual headquarters for remote teams. The virtual software company has already raised $1.5 million to deliver a product which is a mix of a video-calling and gaming environment. All with the aim of enabling presence and serendipity. An important distinction with Teams, Slack, Zoom and Discord is the addition of a digital space. It’s like sitting in a large office space, meeting each other, walking and talking. Branch offers a virtual 2D environment for the home workplace. Momentum 3D adds an extra dimension to this. Last November, more than 1,600 citizens, companies, government agencies and universities gathered in this virtual 3D environment to work together on issues related to the energy transition. This so-called ‘online mass collaboration arena’ is a game-like setting where you can fly through, go in and out of different rooms and meet each other spontaneously and at the same time work together in a team. The challenge being worked on is projected on large TV screens around the platforms. The proposed solutions are also presented in this way. Offering a large virtual space in which people and things have a real place is also the big difference in this solution with the well-known Teams, Slack, Zoom or, for example, Google Meet up.
Drivers in a digital space
Before the corona era, the office barely offered space for some shooting, chaos and car races. Now that is a welcome change for many amid the monotonous tsunami of Zoom and Teams calls. At least according to a number of executives in a large article in the New York Times. They explain how they meet customers in games like Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 . MediaMonks CEO Lewis Smithingham can now call himself an experience expert. He explains that not every game is the same; different games suit different types of customers. He is a fan of Animal Crossing: New Horizons himself. A game that came on the market last March. Participants end up on cartoonish colorful private islands where they decorate their homes, catch fish and look for other animals. It often takes a lot of time in this game to collect flowers, furniture and bait for fishing. Smithingham saw his chance and bought virtual bait on eBay: “The first time I met this one customer, I gave her 100 bait. That is an insanely extravagant gift.” The article in the New York Times lists all kinds of cases with which drivers share their experiences from the virtual world. From business associates robbing banks in Grand Theft Auto, brainstorming sessions in Minecraft, to teams meeting around a cozy digital campfire in Red Dead Redemption. All much better than Zoom, said one of the directors. However, there are also technical problems. For example, the conference table is not always visible to everyone. There is also a button that is both intended to sit on a log around the fire and to strangle your nearest colleague.
These developments are reminiscent of the great promises surrounding Second Life, which was born in 2003. A new virtual world in which people walked around as avatars. It would completely change our lives. The digital Linden Dollars could be converted into real money and all kinds of multinationals such as Philips, Nike, Coca-Cola and ABN-AMRO opened an office in this virtual world. At the time, Second Life was even bombed into a new economy that was going to take off. Despite the 20 million registered users in 2010, Second Life never really broke through. It would therefore be naive to say that we will all be meeting in games soon.
Although, since the beginning of Second Life, we are almost two decades further. During this period we have been digitized at a rapid pace. The infrastructure is significantly better and technological tools are accessible to everyone. Moreover, the corona era has accelerated digitization considerably. At the same time, there is widespread frustration surrounding the current home working tools. There is therefore a great need for improvement. It seems that the ingredients of the Second Life of yesteryear are getting a second chance. In any case, the current gaming market offers enough inspiration for the home workplace of the future.
Thijs Pepping is a trend analyst at SogetiLabs’ Research Institute (VINT).
Now that working from home is the norm, for the time being or perhaps also post-covid, the digital wellbeing and happiness of employees and customers is becoming more important than ever. In other words, digital happiness becomes tangible. Despite the many changes that have taken place at a rapid pace due to the corona outbreak, working from home is still in a learning and experimental phase. There is a great need to take the next step, so that less tangible values such as the lack of conversation at the coffee machine, serendipity and blurred boundaries between work and private life are also given a digital substitution. The IT manager can thus make an important contribution to the digital happiness of customers and employees.
The social dilemma
COVID-19 has put a lot of pressure on our relationship with technology. Thanks to human ingenuity, resourcefulness and the use of technological tools, organizations could adapt relatively quickly to the one and a half meter society in which working from home is the motto. Technically it is all reasonably in order, but what influence does this way of working actually have on the digital happiness of working Netherlands? Three years ago, VINT conducted research into this subject. That was still strange, unfamiliar and not very concrete for many at the time. Digital happiness is now becoming increasingly important. For example, screen time apps are already well established and Google, for example, has its Digital Wellbeing project. The Center for Humane Technology was also established and we were introduced to the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’. This Hollywood-esque drama documentary provides insight into the impact that social media and smartphones have on our lives. The documentary makes the viewer aware of the importance of digital happiness and how far we are often removed from it.
Digital happiness is the extent to which a person experiences digital technology as a positive contribution to their emotions, involvement, relationships, meaning and successes. This can be about contacting family, friends and colleagues via video calling. But also about the fatigue that arises after days of only video conferencing. The IT manager should not only have an eye for a well-functioning and safe home workplace. The officers responsible for the deployment of technology should also consider the extent to which this environment contributes to the digital happiness of employees and customers.
From functionality to digital happiness
During the annual Ignite event last October, Microsoft made a first move. The software company announced new features in Teams and Outlook that contribute to wellbeing and productivity. Have you tried the together mode yet? Suddenly the homeworker is no longer alone in a room but with the whole team in a classroom. At first this seems like a gimmick, but combined with other new features that will be available early next year, according to Microsoft, this should bring an increased feeling of connection, pleasure and well-being at work. For example, Teams will remind users to take a break in a week full of digital meetings. The emotional check-in is meant to share how you feel. Another feature, a virtual replacement of the commuting experience, should enable a more conscious transition from work to private life. Perhaps the most interesting announcement is the integration with Headspace, known for their mindfulness and meditation app. You will soon be able to follow guided meditations from your Teams environment. According to Microsoft, the bundling of their new features will help reduce the risk of burnout.
Tools for managers
Managers are also given new tools from all sides. Particularly in the field of workplace analytics, which often provide a quantitative insight into the way of working. Think of statistics about the degree of collaboration during and outside office hours, concentration time and the effectiveness of meetings. All tested against a benchmark of comparable teams. The idea is that managers have indicators that provide insight into the well-being and effectiveness of employees. This enables managers to respond to irregular rhythms, undesirable and ineffective behaviour. This should contribute to the development of a culture in which well-being is the catalyst.
All beautiful thoughts and initiatives. Yet the practice is unruly and complex. Several organizations have already been discredited for indecently quantifying and qualifying their employees. Under the guise of progress, privacy boundaries are easily crossed. The quality of the data is also easily overestimated. More importantly, the already limited human contact is further eroded by a focus on numbers rather than people. After all, the line between digital insanity and well-being is wafer-thin.
People at the center
In our pursuit of digital happiness, it remains important to keep an eye on people. The old dichotomy between digital and analog is a thing of the past. One or the other is not necessarily good or bad. But, the limitations of digitization are now coming to light. That’s why we need to find new ways for that coincidental meeting with your colleague at the coffee machine, which gives you a great new insight. And for experiencing confidence and autonomy to act as you see fit while staying connected with colleagues. Because it’s easy to forget the familiar but still valuable cliché in chaos: organizations that want to deliver value must put their people first. Also during the current digitization tsunami. This requires guts to keep experimenting in search of the right approach. What distracts and what adds value? Which measures promote well-being or madness? Difficult? Without a doubt. But the ball is still in the IT manager’s court. Like no other, he/she can make an important contribution to digital happiness.
Thijs Pepping is a trend analyst at SogetiLabs’ Research Institute (VINT).
In the spring of 2018, Apple announced that its offices, data centers and retail stores will run on 100 percent renewable energy. A beautiful achievement. But that is no longer enough for the demanding consumer and employee.
Last month, the company announced that it wants to have a ‘zero carbon footprint’ by 2030. For the organization itself, the life cycle of products and the entire production chain. Although the call for Green IT has been increasing and decreasing for decades, the bar has never been higher than it is now. At the same time, the game has never been played so intensely before. Until recently, going-green had mainly a defensive character because legislation and regulations require it, but now it is the consumer who calls companies and institutions to account, whether or not boycott or even cancels them via social media. The stick is more painful, but the carrot is also tastier. That means work to be done for the IT manager, because green is rewarded.
From neutral to regenerative
The climate crisis appears to be moving further down the agenda while we are still in the midst of the pandemic. Yet scientists point out that the corona and climate crisis are closely linked. The accelerated growth of the technology sector creates a huge ecological footprint, energy-guzzling data centers and the mess of difficult-to-recycle products. In addition to its ambitions to become carbon neutral, Apple also announced a new recycling robot that will extract rare metals from the iPhone. Amazon is also doing its bit. For example, this tech giant has released a $2 billion fund for the development of technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Microsoft seems to be the best child in the class for the time being. The software company wants to be CO2 negative by 2030. By 2050, their entire carbon footprint since their existence should be wiped out. Microsoft is the trend leader of Green Big Tech.
The right example
And to think that tens of thousands of employees at Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and other tech companies took to the streets in September last year demanding that their employers take concrete climate action. Open letters were written, people resigned and it didn’t take long before one promise after another for improvement was made. This year most of the promises have been converted into plans that now have to be fulfilled. If we are to believe big tech companies, then at least the future is green. Whether that is out of idealism, employee retention, government policy or the call of the demanding consumer.
It is the same big tech companies that have to answer to the US Congress for the investigation into possible abuse of power. The laissez-faire attitude towards technology companies is increasingly being exchanged for a critical look at monopoly behaviour, privacy violations and the role of technology in climate change.
Big and small steps
Today’s IT manager cannot afford greenwashing either. Greening requires concrete measures. Big or small. The Dutch programmer Danny van Kooten proves how the smallest alterations can have a big impact. In an inspiring article by Wired Magazine and his own blog, Van Kooten explains that a few years earlier he decided to reduce his CO2 footprint by cutting out meat and not flying anymore. A nice gesture, but five months ago he brought about a much bigger change with two hours of work. The programmer made a small tweak to his popular WordPress plugin for the mailing list service Mailchimp. This made it more efficient. Each time the plug-in is used, 20 kB less data is sent than before. The less code, the less energy consumption. That seems like a small initiative. Still, it adds up knowing that two million websites rely on its plugins. It is estimated that trimming the code will result in a reduction in monthly CO2 emissions of 59,000 kilograms. That is quickly 85 round trips from New York to Amsterdam.
Not a bad performance for two hours of hacking. “It takes much less effort than not eating meat,” says Van Kooten. His aha moment in terms of sustainable software design is now actively shared among web designers worldwide.
The IT manager as influencer
Good leaders get followers. That should also apply to the IT manager. He/she may not be the influencer we see on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok. He/she is the policy maker who can make a difference in the sustainable use of technology. So rather join the decision makers regarding greening today than tomorrow. What measures have you taken for a CO2 neutral workplace? What are the climate neutral criteria that you pass on to your suppliers to do business with them? And what actions are needed to reduce energy consumption when developing new software? What will your 20 kB moment be? last
Last but not least, how do you use technology as a strategic tool to make the company climate neutral or even climate regenerative? Many suppliers already have answers ready. It is now up to you to translate this yourself into concrete measures so that your (future) employees and customers can continue to do business with a good feeling.
About the author
Thijs Pepping is a trend analyst at SogetiLabs’ Research Institute (VINT).
If there is one word that should sum up the many analyzes of the current corona crisis, it is uncertainty. The best future predictors with the smartest models and algorithms all come to the same conclusion. Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty. Organizations must be prepared for this. Dealing with change was already an art form with the use of agile principles, but it is wanted, can and must go many steps further.
everything shaken up
In recent months, companies have been forced to throw their often bureaucratic planning processes overboard. Instead, new ideas are conceived and implemented faster than ever before. Decisions are often ratified at lower levels in the organization. It is now important not only to secure the successful changes for the future, but above all to embrace the culture of rapid change.
Because the impact of the corona crisis is huge. For example, the International Energy Agency reports the largest contraction in global energy demand in the past 70 years. The OECD predicts the deepest recession in more than a century. And there are major changes in consumer behaviour. Meanwhile, computer scientists report that nearly half of the Twitter accounts discussing the so-called “re-opening of America” are likely bots. The are reports examining the Corona impact through a gender lens or the consequences for supply and production chains in the semiconductor industry. In short, the diversity of reports confirms that this crisis seems to affect everything that every authority, scientist, individual or organization has an opinion about.
Uncertainty is at odds with the desire for control and overview. Control and overview are now absent and will probably be missing more and more in the world that is becoming increasingly complex. Who had seen the Black Lives Matters movement coming in its Corona strategy? Even for economists, the 1.4% drop in the unemployment rate in the US last month came as a total surprise. Nobody knows what the impact of the corona notification app will be and what a possible second wave will look like. What if there will soon be green and red zones in countries that emerge from the crisis successfully or failing?
Organizations are increasingly developing different future scenarios in order to somewhat cope with uncertainties. For example, Rabobank has developed scenarios that focus on sustainable robust growth on the one hand or greater efficiency on the other. The Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies describes scenarios in which the vaccine against Corona becomes available. All this to be prepared for new circumstances and to provide guidance for decisions that have to be made today.
In addition to dealing with uncertainty, the big question is which changes will remain after the crisis. As a result of the Second World War, more women went to work. 9/11 resulted in continued strict aviation regulations and the SARS outbreak provided a significant boost in Chinese internet commerce. Mass working from home is a major change in the current corona crisis. Studies indicate that working from home is becoming something of a new standard. Time will tell if that will happen.
Corporate cultures are now also being developed online. This seems to be another effect of working from home. For example, office buildings with proud company logos are exchanged for the logos of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Google hang-out. Rituals, behaviours, norms and values that were represented in the time before corona in the decoration of the office to formal and informal manners now take place in image bubble consultation. How much is everyone talking, who is invisible in a video feed?
These are subtle, yet very important shifts. Ultimately, the total corporate culture determines the ability of an organization to change. Now that corporate culture is developing more and more digitally, this requires a different way of working. Plus a new sensitivity to understand what is going on among colleagues and how to deal with it.
harvesting, safeguarding and stimulating change
Embracing change and uncertainty is not a task that lies with one person. It is the job of every team, manager and employee.
Continuing uncertainty above all makes it clear that the control and control apparatus must also learn to deal with this. What does that mean, for example, for annual plans and quarterly figures? For example, not only development and operational processes will become agile. A way must also be found at the top of the organization to embrace uncertainty. That will not be easy for everyone, but it is part of the new possible.
By: Thijs Pepping, trend analyst at Sogeti’s New Technology Exploration Institute (VINT)
‘We will wait a little longer until everyone has called in. Can you see me? Am I audible? I hear an echo.’ The same remarks, the same chaos, it’s the new bullshit bingo for videomeetings. Where video calling used to be an exciting new experience, it has now become a deadly tiring ritual for many. Even if a video conference goes smoothly, it turns out that people are exhausted afterwards. It sucks energy. During a video call, we need to focus more on the other person than we normally would. It is hard work to digitally perceive non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, the pitch of the voice and body language. We also need to interpret existing and new social signals in a different way. People who used to wear suits now wear polos. Hand gestures are less visible, but you can continuously monitor the faces of the others. And what does it mean that your colleague’s laundry basket in the background is so full?
Fight or flight mode
Our only space for interaction is a computer screen, where personal space is nil, making us more vulnerable to negative feelings. In addition, every video call with a colleague, friend or family member is a reminder of a world that no longer exists. This confrontation brings all kinds of emotions with it. Not surprisingly, all these online video encounters lead to fatigue, headaches, stinging eyes, blurred vision and other neurological disorders. According to communication professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University, we become exhausted because we are staring at each other all the time. We are constantly reading each other’s emotions and are therefore automatically in a fight or flight mode. Based on his research, he advises a different approach to the camera. Even those personal glimpses into the kitchen of your colleagues, no matter how nice, cost energy. It is better to fixate the camera on an image, choose a different camera setup or turn the camera off completely. An alternative solution is to work with virtual avatars: you can see the person, but there are far fewer emotions to perceive and process. This dampening of emotional triggers makes digital meetings less tiring.
At the start of the crisis, we did not want to miss an online meeting, coffee moment, Friday afternoon drink, birthday party or pub quiz. And let’s be honest, we didn’t have to miss anything, because we were at home anyway. Currently, an estimated 2.6 billion people—a third of the world’s population—are confined to their homes by the coronavirus. That makes the imposed lockdown the world’s largest psychological experiment ever. By the end of 2020, the World Economic Forum expects a second epidemic of psychological disorders ranging from bad mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression to post-traumatic stress symptoms. These expected effects on the psychological state of people in long-term quarantine are now also reflected in the first reports from China. Paradoxically, there is therefore a risk that social distancing will actually lead to more health problems in the longer term.
Witte Hoogendijk, head of the psychiatry department of Erasmus MC, already advised a few weeks ago to turn off social media. That was already an important weapon against burnout pre-corona. He also sees advantages in the ‘corona position’ we are currently in. We need less, because we can do much less. But with all those video calls, we achieve exactly the opposite: our stress response system is activated non-stop, we are constantly on and that eventually drives us crazy. The global pandemic has accelerated digital transformation even further. In a few weeks, a completely new way of life has been enforced. It is therefore not surprising that people complain about a ‘Zoom burnout’. We have to take these complaints seriously, look at the ‘why’ behind the energy loss, set clear boundaries, not plan the whole day with calls and turn off the camera during a video conference. In this way we are better able to watch over our own mental health. ‘The doctor’s advice’ is therefore to pick up the phone once in a while.
Sander Duivestein, Menno van Doorn and Thijs Pepping are trend analysts at SogetiLab’s Research Institute (VINT).
Video conferencing can be manipulated. Authenticity checks are also necessary in video apps, according to Thijs Pepping and Sander Duivestein.
Video conferencing at home is now the main alternative to meetings in the office. It makes sense that the many video calling apps are critically examined in the light of privacy and security protection. After much commotion about the insecurity of Zoom, people are working hard on better security and functionalities of these apps. In addition to all the warnings about data collection by tech companies and encryption of the conversation content, there is a new danger: previously recorded videos simulating presence or fake people breaking into the digital meeting.
We see virtual image manipulation in students recording themselves and playing this video during a virtual class meeting. So it seems as if they are well behaved in front of the camera, while they are not. And out of frustration with the large amount of video conferences he had to attend, technologist Matt Reed developed a digital twin of his own. This Zoom bot responded to members in the meeting via preprogrammed voice commands.
These are random examples that underline how relatively easy it is to manipulate sound and images during video conferencing. Now that colleagues or fellow students are getting a glimpse into each other’s living and work rooms, the first virtual backgrounds are also appearing: a colleague suddenly sitting in a luxurious office or meeting in the middle of Sesame Street dolls. With software you can also pretend to be a virtual potato, change your eye color or rain stars and hearts on the screen. Image manipulation is becoming the most normal thing in the world.
An imitation Elon Musk
Last week a video appeared of a Zoom meeting of two IT people in which Tesla CEO Elon Musk suddenly called in. This caused confusion among the participants. Afterwards, this turned out to be a video recorded to demonstrate the art of the new deepfake software Avatarify. A programmer had impersonated Elon Musk through an advanced face filter. Artificial intelligence, for example, shows how people can pretend to be someone else in real time. The open source software Avatarify makes it relatively easy to create ‘real-time deepfakes’. It is a matter of downloading and installing with a number of accompanying scripts. For example, the handy hobby technician with a powerful computer can pretend to be someone completely different in a video meeting. This software is attractive to cyber criminals who can pose relatively easily as, for example, Mark Rutte or any other leader. This allows them to break into insecure Zoom meetings or give scams a new dimension. If employees remain so dependent on video conferencing, this is an alarming development for security experts. It won’t be the first time things have gone wrong. Last year, cybercriminals tricked the British CEO of a German multinational by posing as the CEO of the parent company. Thanks to deepfake technology, the fake driver instructed his British colleague to transfer about 220,000 euros into the account of a Hungarian supplier. That later turned out to be the cyber criminals’ bank account. This fraud case prompted market analyst Forrester Research to warn the market about such criminal practices that are expected to lead to hundreds of millions of financial losses. That was all before the massive breakthrough of video calling.
Check marks on your account
Blindly relying on what our eyes and ears perceive is a thing of the past. Smart technology creates a synthetic reality in which real and fake are intertwined. Thanks to virtual backgrounds, Snapchat filters and real-time generated deepfakes, image manipulation is now accessible to everyone. Zoom has indicated that it will continue to support the virtual camera that lets you pretend to be different, just as it does on other video conferencing platforms. Social media has known the so-called ‘trusted account’ for much longer: a green or blue check mark behind a name as a guarantee that you are dealing with the right person. Dating platforms are also increasingly working with photo verification to guarantee the authenticity of people. Such a guarantee should also be introduced soon for video calling apps. For both the account and to check whether the image is manipulated. Only then can you trust that you are meeting with your real colleagues.
Emergency breaks laws. During corona questionable measures are taken in the fight against the virus.
Mayors are given extra powers to fine things such as group formation. In China’s surveillance society, such measures are relatively easy to enforce. Thanks to millions of facial recognition cameras, every movement of the Chinese is tracked. The population is also required to report body temperature and medical condition. This enables the Chinese authorities to quickly identify suspected coronavirus carriers. The citizen’s smartphone became the gateway to the city and public transport. Apps warn citizens about the proximity of infected patients.
In the US, too, the government is now talking with tech giantsGoogle, Facebook and others about the use of digital location data to avert the pandemic. Closer to home over the Belgian border, a drone flies over Brussels that asks people to keep their distance via an audio message. The question is how far technological measures should go in a democratic country where privacy and individual freedom must be cherished. If health is the greatest good, should these boundaries be broken?
THE OTHER SIDE
The usually highly criticized surveillance society is now showing the other side. It seems that China has managed to contain the virus thanks in part to their total lockdown and the use of advanced technology. Citizens received a green code for free travel via the app on their smartphone. A Chinese who was signaled with an orange or red code at the many checkpoints, could be caught immediately. There are severe penalties for Chinese who do not want to cooperate with temperature measurements, lie about their travel history or break quarantines. Tencent, owner of messaging app WeChat, and online store giant Alibaba share information with the Chinese government and develop new apps together. In the US too, people are now working with all their might on intensive cooperation between the business community and the government to continuously monitor citizens. And Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently authorized the Israel Security Agency to deploy surveillance technology to track coronavirus patients. This technology is normally used in the fight against terrorism. When the relevant parliamentary subcommittee refused to approve this measure, Netanyahu was able to use the detection technology via an emergency decision.
KEEPING AN EYE ON EVERYTHING
The second global crisis of this century is therefore also seen as an information problem. In an ideal world, everyone always knows if there is an infection. Just like the smartphone is always aware of the user’s location. “Eventually, we’ll get some digital certificates to show who’s recently recovered or tested or when we’ve received a vaccine,” said former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, who has been campaigning for many years in the fight against pandemics. Governments and businesses alike are deploying increasingly sophisticated technology to detect, track and manipulate people. Historian Yuval Noah Harari warns that the coronavirus could become a major turning point in history for this. There is a high risk that the use of investigative technology will become the new normal in countries that have rejected it so far. Even after the pandemic.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN A DEMOCRACY
It will be an important challenge to deploy technologies that fit within the democratic value frameworks of the Netherlands and Europe. British scientists hope to soon launch a smartphone app that warns people if they have come into contact with others infected with the corona virus. This test is intended to assess how Chinese practices can also be applied in our democracy. The main difference lies in the voluntary participation. At the same time, the success of this app depends on how many citizens agree to share location data for the duration of the pandemic. This so-called disposable app is an important experiment. In the end, it’s all about trust now. The government’s trust in citizens who take their own responsibility. And citizens who must and can trust the government that personal data will eventually be deleted and movements of infected persons will not be made public, as has happened in South Korea. In this way, privacy and health can go hand in hand.
The Dutch government makes great demands on the responsibility of citizens. Relative freedom comes with responsibility. If measures such as keeping a distance of 1.5 meters and avoiding group formation are not executed, it seems inevitable to take even stricter measures. Decisions that citizens, companies and governments take in the coming period will determine what the world will look like after the crisis. Such decisions do not only shape the health care system. They also determine the future of the economy, politics and culture. Privacy will undoubtedly come under pressure. However, a surveillance society is not an option. Let’s continue to use common sense here too.
OPINION | The elderly must be empowered in the use of social media now that public life is almost at a standstill, say Sander Duivestein, Menno van Doorn and Thijs Pepping.
From digital drinks to virtual dancing; the internet is at this moment in time a godsend. Now that public life has virtually come to a standstill and physical contact with friends and family is hardly possible anymore, everyone is looking for each other on the internet. From now on, so-called social distancing will mainly be distant socialising.
A digital evening drink, Netflixing together or a church service via the screen. Where scientists criticized social media before the crisis, this is now the only way to keep it social and cozy. The vulnerable group of elderly people who do not have internet access must be helped in this regard. Britt Dekker set the example with her appeal in the talkshow De Wereld Draait Door to make tablets available so that the elderly can gain insight into the daily lives of their children or grandchildren. And Dionne Stax showed on Instagram how much fun the digital drink with her friends was.
Enjoying each other’s company and a glass of wine in front of the webcam. In Japan, this has already been coined as On-Nomi. And cloudclubbing is a virtual party where DJs perform live sets on apps like TikTok. The audience dances in the living room and follows reactions via smartphone. The nice thing is that it’s all so clumsy. It does not resemble the approach of the professional, tight and serious digital online seminars. Everyone gets a look at each other’s house, raises a glass and fiddles with the technology.
Sherry Turkle, a sociology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, warned that social media makes people antisocial, which also means that the art of having a real conversation is lost. The ubiquitous mobile technology means that children, colleagues, partners and friends at home or in a public environment make less spontaneous contact with each other. Deep one-on-one conversations are also taking place less frequently. Turkle calls it ‘the new silence’. Now that public life is forced to be quiet, the silence is broken by meeting each other online and working together. One and a half meters is emotionally a lot. But thanks to technology in the living room, people are still very close to each other and distances disappear like snow in the sun.
The severity of the pandemic, of course, does not change with the massive recourse to the internet. Everyone misses the physical proximity of friends and family greatly. At the same time, the crisis shows that the intrinsic desire for contact, exchanging experiences and supporting each other is greater than ever.
The challenge remains to bridge the digital divide between young and old and to devise ways to transform Turkle’s ‘new silence’ into real conversations at a distance. Everyone is now discovering how that works. Human contact is indispensable. The streets are quiet. But the internet is busier than ever.
Sander Duivestein, Menno van Doorn and Thijs Pepping are trend analysts at SogetiLab’s Research Institute (VINT).
When researchers from the worldwide OpenAI platform showed how an algorithm can solve the well-known Rubik’s cube using a robot hand, they simultaneously calculated how much energy it took to train this algorithm. The algorithm turned out to require more than a thousand desktop computers, plus dozens of machines running specialized graphics chips for months of intensive calculations.
It is estimated that this project has consumed about 2.8 gigawatt hours of electricity. That is equivalent to the emissions of three nuclear power plants during one hour. This example illustrates that the increase in smart applications has a significant impact on the environment.
This immediately raises the question of to what extent ‘Green IT’ should also be an agenda item for the IT manager. In addition to all those other challenges in the field of digital transformation, security, management of the fast-growing data mountain, cloud transition and so on, we could go on and on. To get straight to the point; the answer is yes, we cannot escape it.
Climate change has never been so high on our society’s agenda. Not without reason, because it is clear that something needs to be done. After the many warnings from Rutger Bregman to the impressive speeches by Greta Thurnberg at the World Economic Forum, the IT manager also has to deal with the desire to make technology green.
After ‘flight shame’, the term ‘data shame’ has now also been born. For example, internet pioneer Marleen Stikker argues that it is unnecessary to store unlimited data or to have super-fast internet everywhere and at all times. All of this has a negative impact on energy consumption. Microsoft has already announced that the company wants to be CO2 negative by 2030. Twenty years later, the software company wants to wipe out their entire carbon footprint that they’ve left behind since Microsoft’s inception in 1975. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos goes one step further. He is donating $10 billion to his Bezos Earth Fund that will help activists, scientists and NGOs battle climate change.
Green Computing becomes key
Green Computing has been around for decades. So far not much new under the sun. However, until now it was just a small movement, easy to ignore. Now that facts and figures are becoming more concrete, the IT manager will also have to take action. In the annual inventory of the biggest risks for companies – the so-called Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum – entrepreneurs have placed climate-related risks in the top 5 this year. The carbon footprint of the technology sector is estimated at about 1.4 percent of global emissions. And without developing more efficient technology, about 51% of the global electricity needs will come from information and communication technology by 2030, scientists say.
It is no longer a question of whether something should be done, but what should be done. For many, this is still very elusive. After all, the digital transformation has no way back for IT managers. Yet there are plenty of measures to take that are also relevant for any IT officer. For example, energy-efficient data centers save a lot of energy. Turning off energy-consuming screensavers also helps.
The sleep mode of computers was invented with a view to saving. And what about adjusting our digital behaviour. As difficult as that will be. Still, it is good to remember that watching a YouTube video 1.9 billion times is equivalent to the CO2 emissions of 190,000 people flying from Amsterdam to Rio de Janeiro. Fifty years of smartphone use is comparable to flying a trans-Atlantic return ticket. And a website visit is estimated to emit 0.8 grams of CO2 on average.
Making digital behavior more sustainable
The numbers make us dizzy. They call on us to be aware that digital behavior contributes to more energy emissions. A recent Ericsson report shows that the carbon footprint of the ICT sector can be reduced by more than 80 percent if consumed electricity comes from renewable energy sources.
In short, the IT manager also has a lot to explain in this area. He already had to do that for the use of artificial intelligence. Whether that is ethically responsible. ‘Explainable KWH’ therefore simply fits in with ‘explainable AI’. In other words, the IT manager must now also be able to account for himself to society in the field of Green Computing. The customer demands climate-responsible behavior from every organization. The same goes for the IT organization. The truly green IT manager ensures a CO2-negative digital working environment. That does not mean that we will consume less IT, but smarter. Only then can IT also sail along towards the green economy of the 21st century.
About the author:
Thijs Pepping is a trend analyst at SogetiLab’s Research Institute (VINT).
PZC – “It’s all about likes, shares and followers”: Zeeland Sunday with Thijs Pepping (February 2020)
For the Dutch newspaper PZC I was interviewed about Generation Z and their relationship with technology. In our research report we call this generation ‘The Synthetic Generation’. Read the full interview at: https://www.pzc.nl/zeeuws-nieuws/het-draait-om-likes-shares-en-volgers-zeeuwse-zondag-met-thijs-pepping~a538e7a3/
Trouw – Traditional media are no longer newsfinders but have become the newsfollowers (January 2020)
Donald Trump, Elon Musk, beauty vlogster Nikkie: celebrities use their own channels to spread news. The newspapers and TV news channels now threaten to become news followers, instead of newsmakers. Journalism should be concerned, say trend analysts Sander Duivestein and Thijs Pepping.
Beauty vlogster Nikkie announced in a 17-minute video that she is transgender. She had been planning to come out for some time. After people threatened to leak her story to the press, she took matters into her own hands. She said it is frightening that there are people who do not respect the identity of others. With the announcement in her own vlog, she was in full control of her story, even raising a big middle finger at her blackmailers.
It was striking that Nikkie was not to be seen in any news or talk show. Although all traditional media paid attention to the news, it seems that the now world-famous vlogster believes that she does not need this media. She may be right about that. Nikkie reaches many more people through her own channel than all talk shows combined.
Nikkie is not the first to take such control. The power shift has started in the past decade. Celebrities have become their own medium. President Trump tweets all day long. He no longer does sessions for the press. Traditional media can do little more than follow his umpteenth quote on social media. Tesla CEO Elon Musk regularly treats his audience to company-sensitive revelations via Twitter. And earlier this month, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan announced their departure from the British royal family via an Instagram message. The traditional media had to deal with that. And via YouTube, the public could see the live-streamed press conference of former Nissan executive Ghosn suspected of corruption before it was on the news.
In this way the journalist no longer sets the tone, but the celebrity himself. Everyone thus becomes their own spin doctor with full control over their own message, which reaches the citizen before independent media can even say a word about it. This means that the individual has more media impact than ever, without the intervention and review of journalism. For the so-called pulp media, which live on gossip and backbiting, that may not be a big deal. Who knows, that might even be an improvement. They have not been so careful with journalistic ethics for years. However, for politics, the economy and actually society as a whole, the development is worrying.
Reputable media are now neatly tallying how often politicians lie or spread incorrect facts. Most counters are in the negative. At the same time, the story of the same lying politician has long been in the minds of many citizens. This creates the risk that traditional media will become the mouthpiece of new media and that they will not be much more than the gathering place for expressions on social media.
Objective journalism must invest heavily in truth-finding. Investigative journalism is of course not new. But perhaps that approach should become guiding, instead of what now appears to be supportive. The New York Times, for example, has already taken steps. The newspaper has included Dutch investigative journalist Christiaan Triebert of the citizen journalism network Bellingcat on its editorial board. He was one of those who revealed the truth about Iran’s downing of the Ukrainian Boeing.
One way or another, traditional media should no longer accept that they are now news followers, rather than newsmakers. They must act to continue to guarantee our healthy democracy.