Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Do the right thing. (Digital Equipment Corporation)

My first job out of grad school was at Digital Equipment Corp., or DEC. For those of you who haven’t been around as long as I have, I like to tell people that it was the number two computer manufacturer in the world at that time, and was something of the Google of its day.

Google, in fact, has a similar motto, “Don’t be evil.” Well, DEC’s is a little more positive, of course. But it's still the same general idea.

Now, we might contrast those two that with the motto of Facebook. Their motto was originally “Move fast and break things” (they’ve since come up with some bland official pablum). 

Well, I guess they've managed to do both, haven't they? They moved very fast, and they seem to have broken many things – the ability to go more than a few minutes without looking at your phone, any sense of personal privacy on the Internet, journalistic objectivity, the democratic process, civil discourse …

I think this is particularly ironic as Facebook is a social media company – a company who’s purported purpose is to bring people together. Of course, there is also their business model. And that revolves around addiction cum targeted marketing – basically hooking people then delivering them to large corporations so they can extract your hard-earned dollars (and yen, and euros, and yuan) from you in the most efficient manner possible. You know, maybe their motto ought to be, “Profits before people.”

So, what does all this mean for the average usability engineer out there? Well, there was a time when our main job was to make things easier to use, for users. In essence, we made the world a friendlier, nicer place. These days, though, it seems mostly to be to sell, sell, sell. That moral high ground we used to occupy is steadily eroding. 

So, what can we do about it? Well, when your company, or project team, or colleagues, appear to be blindly headed down that path of moving fast and breaking things, perhaps you can be the still, small voice of conscience. In other words, don’t be afraid to raise your hand. Ask them about the implications of what they’re proposing. Remind them that there is more to the world than profits, that a handsome paycheck does not absolve you of all moral obligations, that there is still a possibility for UX to make the world a better place.

The only wrong thing former DEC CEO Ken Olson did was to bet against the PC  :^(

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