Tribal or Google Rules #23 #cong19


Our society is based on values developed by tribes and communities based in the past. Technology has blasted itself into our lives, making us question how we should act in society now. We are unprepared for this pace and how it affects our online and offline communities. How can we begin to lay down human values that can help, nurture, respect and care for future human society?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Tribal collective knowledge, We can learn from the past not to continually shoot ourselves in the foot.
  2. Because you can build something doesn’t mean you should.
  3. We are losing more than our identity, we are losing our sense of self.
  4. Respect is as important as empathy to survive in this coming robotic age.

About Geraldine O'Brien:

I qualified from DIT in 1977 with a Dip I.D. I worked in New York and London using my design skills Then returning to Ireland in the 1980s worked with Kilkenny Design for six years before starting my own practice Geraldine O’Brien Design (1986-2009). My experience at Kilkenny Design influenced my freelance work considerably both as a designer and educator.

I have always sought variety in my interior/exhibition work and welcome the challenge and the opportunity for personal development. Projects have ranged from rehousing of Magdalen women to purpose built accommodation, refurbishment of a five storey Fitzwilliam Square Georgian house and mews, sheltered accommodation, nursing homes, general residential interiors and exhibitions for the craft industry.

I was commissioned by The Crafts Council of Ireland to deliver a training programme to benefit emerging crafts people across the country and developed a format incorporating lectures, mentoring and provision of workshops between 1986-1998.

Since 2009 I have been in practice with my husband in our firm McCarthy O’Brien Architects and Designers. MCOB in Dublin. We have two adult children in professional careers.

What is fundamental to the way I work, whether designing an interior, an exhibition or a craft display, is listening to the client or craft maker, getting to know their style and their story so as to create a space and ambience that preserves their individuality and help them create something special.

Contacting Geraldine O'Brien:

You can contact Geraldine by email or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Geraldine O’Brien

The african tribal saying “it takes a tribe to raise a child” speaks of the collective knowledge in society and the importance of passing the knowledge down to younger generations. In Nigeria, where this saying is said to have originated, tribal elders were the keepers of this knowledge and it took the work of the tribe as a whole for the collective to survive. 

The internet has enabled us to communicate across borders engaging with humans and robots alike expanding the world-community in an unprecedented way. Google is now the keeper of much of the world’s collective knowledge, it is no longer hand-picked by the tribe or community elders to align with the traditional social values and customs accepted by our communities. Instead technology companies are deciding what is acceptable, based on free business models driven by profits for shareholders. This is done through terms and conditions which are primarily built to protect the platform and less-so the user. What about human values, customs and traditions ? It seems this responsibility is delegated to state regulation. 

The saying “build it and they will come” doesn’t mean just because you can build it you should, which is often the way with tech-startup culture.

Edelman’s annual trust barometer indicates that it’s incredibly hard to restore trust once it’s lost or damaged and more recently many technology companies have begun to experience the unintended circumstances of their actions.

A recent example of broken trust in a company was Theranos, a now defunct US technology company. The company convinced investors to invest $724 million in their business which sought to deliver a finger prick blood technology to detect several diseases. The company was excessively secretive and they fooled their investors for some time. Internal whistleblowers exposed the companies shortcomings and it is now under investigation for fraud. One such whistleblower employee Erika Cheung, learned from her bad experiences with Theranos, and went on to found a nonprofit called Ethics in Entrepreneurship  their mission is to educate startups and businesses in ethical challenges and build tools to support them. It’s encouraging to see companies empowering technology for good.

Facebook regularly turned their customers into test beds, experimenting on live users without their knowledge or consent and using that personal information for their sole gain.  Surrendering your date of birth, contact information and image rights essentially our biometric data has become par for the course when signing up to big platforms and once given is not easily retrieved. 

I am someone who hates having my picture taken and I was recently told that I shared this affliction with South Sea Islanders, however, the reasons why may differ. The Islanders are said to believe that having your photograph captured could take your soul or your spirit. Images are now big business and are monetised in many ways, some of which take advantage of our personal identity data. This includes our memories, thoughts and knowledge, vital parts of our identity. To preserve who we are, it’s important for humanity to protect our personal identity including our DNA. Our identity comes in many forms; our biometrics but also our less tangible self, our presence on this planet. They are part of our stamp on life and tell the story of the imprint of our time.

We the customers seem to have become the product yet we are paying with our personal identity data. Companies that continually test products and services and put trust at the cornerstone of business recognise the importance of looking after their community. Is it time that we as a society implement rules that mandate the protection of customers over products or services ? Perhaps this so called “free” advertising model could evolve into a “we pay you for your data” model as users now understand the value of their data.

There are many recent examples of a customers personal identity being left compromised by online businesses.The minimal recent fines that have been ordered in response to such incidents in the technology industry are only a slap on the wrist. In many of these cases often it is only in the future that the extent of human damage caused comes to light.

Dr Jonny Walker an Australian radiologist and serial health entrepreneur who has worked with aboriginals in the outback spoke about their traditions, cultures and beliefs. Walker has spoken of how a tribal member “being shown the bone”  by their tribe, specifically the tribal elders, resulted in a sentence of ostracisation the most severe sentence that could be administered leading to extreme isolation. Humans are social animals and the loss of human touch and interaction can cause us to lose our physical sense of self and identity.

Experiencing isolation or alienation is not an unusual occurrence in online communities, although to survive humans need to be nurtured. Cultivating a sense of belonging, connection, and respect is vital for the health of the tribe. To me these values are the essential ingredients for the human cause in the fight against a cyborg society.

It’s no longer strange to see people walking down the street talking to themselves, and not taking in their surroundings. Technology allows us to connect with family and friends world-wide all the time, however, an occasional emergence from our tech bubble to reconnect with humanity is beneficial for our emotional health. I am fighting back in my own ways, acknowledging people as I pass them on the street with a smile, a nod, a wave, or a comment.  Asking after the person who is serving me in shops restaurants, trying to make a point to say thank you especially on buses. I sometimes find myself apologising to my dogs, spiders, flowers etc. when I unintentionally hurt things, I have kept this secret to myself until recently as it makes me sound more nutty than I already appear. I look at it as fighting for my own humanity in the struggle against the cyborgs. Maybe in the future we will speak to IOS devices, chat bots, etc. with the same respect, as its about values. 

The Irish State is currently gathering sensitive citizens data in defiance of its own data regulator Helen Dixon, within the remit of the Personal Services Card it will be breathtaking to see how this works out. European Court of Justice previously ruled in favour on a case brought by Digital Rights Ireland.

That data gathering must have a clear legal purpose and be transparent and proportionate is the basis for data protection laws.

It’s a dangerous time when our Government takes its own regulator to court. Especially when Ireland is home to so many large data gathering companies. We need to be sending a clear message to technology and other business that it is our humanity that is at stake.

To me it’s clear; if we are to survive the robotic age we need to remember to respect, nurture and consider others in our community regardless if we find ourselves online or off.