One of the oldest instructions in tech support, and, relatedly, one of the oldest jokes in tech, is whether you’ve “turned it off and then back on.” It comes right after making sure the thing is plugged in.
Tech as an industry, however, doesn’t really follow those instructions. Bigger, better, faster, disruptier doesn’t happen if you slow down or stop entirely. At all costs, we can’t lose momentum or first-mover advantage. Or so we’re led to believe.
But tech’s insistence that the only way is forward and upward as fast as possible is not the result of Newton’s Laws of Motion. It’s the result of ongoing choices that are consistently rewarded, whether they’re a good idea or not.
A couple of weeks ago Twitter announced that they are stopping political advertising on the platform, globally. (Jack Dorsey’s explanatory thread.) What’s that? A tech giant decided to… turn it off?
Now, Twitter doesn’t deserve a hero cookie for this one decision. They’ve failed to address myriad issues of abuse perpetrated on the platform for years. But the announcement did make me think that, in a way, it was finally an example of a tech platform actually pumping the brakes and stopping something that (OBVIOUSLY, SCREAMINGLY, BLATANTLY) was broken.
Whether they’ll eventually turn it on again, and in what format, remains to be seen. While we’re on the topic, though?
When you find out that foreign interests are screwing with your election processes via your platform’s reach, and you publicly deny it for far longer than is even remotely plausible, then insist on downplaying the degree of influence.
Just turn it off.
When you find out your platform is a festering hotbed and organizing platform for Nazis.
Just turn if off.
When your employees keep committing violent crimes against your customers, and your response is that they’re not really employees, but contractors, so not your responsibility, and you let them keep working, with carte blanche to prey on more people.
Just turn it off.
If your company considers endless rounds of investment and dizzying levels of debt to be the most viable business model year after year, instead of actually figuring out how to sell what people want to buy.
Just turn it off.
When your customers are regularly robbed, scammed and even murdered thanks to your failure to address long-running issues or accept any culpability, and then you actually expect anyone to believe the sweeping changes you claim you’ll be making will make any difference.
Just turn it off.
While we’re at it, the media doesn’t help. When there’s a high-profile shutdown, stories invariably post how much money was or is projected to be lost while some system was down, or some company deals with some major issue. This is not necessary, nor is it helpful a lot of the time. These are not service level agreement situations.
When stories are framed that way, everything comes down to money. It cements the notion that it’s the only thing that matters. Why would we stop doing the thing if We’re Going To Lose Money? We can’t lose money! We can’t lose momentum! Someone might sneak past us! The CEO’s bonus might not be enough to buy several islands!
Kids are exhibiting mental illness at disturbingly young ages. City infrastructure and community fabric is being damaged. People’s lives are being destroyed. But heaven forbid we risk shareholder value.
When “it” is finally turned off, obviously something got bad enough to pass a threshold. Remember that scene in Fight Club explaining the circumstances under which insurance companies will do a recall? Yeah, like that. More money was at risk if they didn’t turn it off.
But turning it off doesn’t only have to be used to slow or stop a disaster. It’s time and space to take a breath. To acknowledge that the current course isn’t perfect. To actually do some analysis on what’s working and what could be better.
What else happened when it stopped? What additional harm was prevented? What benefits were gained? What opportunities arose? What did we notice that was long overdue?
Surely that’s at least possible. Surely we’re not so far gone that the only reason we grudgingly turn it off is that we’re facing a tanking stock price or prison.
Growth, disruption and momentum aside, no one sees these problems because they’re studiously not looking for them. Because they make it clear they don’t want to be told about them, and that no one else is to know, either. People may clamour for no more Nazis, but they get… an extra 140 characters.
I don’t believe no one sees the cliff coming. That mistakes couldn’t have been corrected or course changed before it got to the point where the big, red panic button had to be pushed.
After all, we see people complaining for years on these same platforms about what’s broken. By the time governments start looking into these issues it means that everyone is aware of both their existence and the lack of will to address them.
Additionally, if the tech industry is so hellbent on their refusal to turn it off, then logic would dictate they’ve put zero resources into figuring out how to fix what’s broken or how things should work before turning it back on. Which means lost revenue and momentum could be indefinite.
Hmm... what about just making it look like we turned it off?
Case in point: turns out that political ad ban on Twitter isn’t so much a… political ad ban.
Makes you wonder if we’d be better off if someone just pulled the plug on the whole thing.