Sunday, February 26, 2012

Perception Overhaul Needed: Good Business IS For Real

It wasn't part of my plan to write a post today. But yesterday, while attending a professional association meeting, I was reminded just how far we have to go with influencing common perceptions of what "computers and society" means.

I am quite used to people reacting to the phrase "computers and society" with comments about how bad it all is. Never once has anyone I have introduced the phrase "computers and society" to assumed anything other than that it refers to negative uses of technology. When introducing the profiles in my book, as I was yesterday to a fellow writer, I am quite used to needing to explain that I wrote there (as I do here) not about bad, but about good uses of computing. Good that is clear to almost everyone and hard to argue with. An all too typical reaction is a deer in the headlights expression accompanied by a confused pause.

Yesterday, I tried to circumvent this reaction by explaining that when I write about business entities, I like to showcase those who are doing good with computers as part of their everyday business. Listening intently, my conversation partner nodded and asked if I knew about a certain organization in Washington D.C. I did not, was interested, and asked what they did. She replied that they went after businesses that were "not doing the right thing" and got them to change their behavior.

Arg. I took a breath, thanked her, and explained that this was not my focus. Ignoring the familiar, growing, puzzled expression, I explained patiently that there are corporate entities out there that have a business model that integrates doing good for society. Not as a side activity, not as a ploy, but because they feel it is the right thing to do AND it is good business. Not necessarily because they set out to save the world, but because their personal ethics are integrated with their professional corporate ethics.

As is often the case, the conversation ended shortly thereafter. I'm not sure how much she believed that you all are out there and are for real.

Why? Perhaps it is partly a reflection of our national lack of civility in public discourse; perhaps it is a  human tendency to gravitate towards the sensational and dwell on suffering. Perhaps it is a tendency of people doing really exciting positive work to focus more on getting the job done than getting the word out. Admirable, but it leaves much of the greater public with the impression that "computers and society" is a negative concept. It leaves the impression that business benefiting society is a side activity, or something that only happens when it is forced upon a company.

Not true. So I keep writing.

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