The march of technological advancement over the last several decades has allowed everyone to leverage modern computing power to create in ways never thought possible by individuals. Innovations have given people the power to achieve goals that just years ago required the vast resources of a big organization or teams of trained professionals.
These innovations, commonly thought of as “democratising technology,” allow people to create in ways not even imaginable a generation previous.
It is about putting tools in the hands of people that allow them to accomplish things they previously couldn’t.
It has made music creation, photography, blogging, web design, ecommerce and app building all easier and more approachable. It is about allowing people to achieve the same goals without having to know the underlying technology and making those skills available to wider audiences. Photoshop (opens in new tab) will always have its place even if more and more people edit photos on their smartphones.
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Power to the many
For the everyday consumers, democratisation of technology changes two rather important factors:
First, it dramatically lowers the cost of entry or creation. By not requiring a large amount (or any) money upfront, it allows consumers to approach a new technology without the fear and risk of breaking the bank. More importantly, it allows those who do not have access to any funds at all to start. In the best-case scenario it even helps them create a business that can support them and their family.
Second, the extensive training and specific knowledge once needed is no longer necessary. Platforms enabling complex processes like app development, music production or photo editing, open up a new set of skills without nearly the same level of required training, specialisation, or overhead.
By pushing more of the complexity to the underlying toolset (rather than the individual using them), these platforms are in effect giving their users a whole new set of skills without the effort that was traditionally required for such self-advancement.
As an example - photo editing today feels much more approachable. Rather than purchasing Photoshop and spending hundreds of hours to perfect the skills required to use it, one can simply spend a few quid on an app that answers many of the common editing needs. Does it replace Photoshop completely? Absolutely not. Are there times where it’s a suitable substitute – yes.
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This has long been the goal of technology. The personal computer transformed computing from a tool available to organizations with buildings full of engineers, to something accessible to almost any individual, and which fit first on a desk, and later in a handbag or jeans pocket. Technology makes things that were expensive, difficult and cumbersome - cheaper, easier and approachable.
3D printing is a prime example of democratisation at work. 3D printing changed the way that products and prototypes are build - for both individuals and professionals. Instead of requiring a complex prototyping and manufacturing process, people can use inexpensive printers to build something new in a matter of hours rather than months.
This allows individuals to manufacture where previously they could not. But it also allows professionals to prototype quickly before committing to a full-blown manufacturing process. It’s a fantastic example of how the democratizing forces of technology can be reincorporated by professionals to make their jobs easier as well.
We should not ignore the effect that democratisation has on professionals, with hard-earned skills they have learned over decades and which they base their livelihood on. In the most cynical sense, the opening of platforms to larger audiences takes business away from them and money out of their pockets.
Embrace the threat
There are two paths that professionals who feel threatened by technological advancement can go down. They can disparage the new platforms, yell about it on social media, claim there’s no way that it could replace them, and generally take on the role of victim. But there is inherently an arrogance to that path – one that says “don’t use that easier technology you can afford, instead pay me loads of money.”
The second is to adapt. If the advancement that worries them is one that can be incorporated to their process that also makes their life easier – than take it on. Use the innovations to add value to your customers, save time and then begin to build something bigger than you could before.
Savvy professionals use the consumer tools to reduce overhead in their workflow (as in the 3D printing example) and free them from the menial tasks. Use that time to do truly significant work where your knowledge is even more of an asset.
If the tools at consumers’ hands is not one that can be incorporated into your process – find out what you can do to set yourself apart. No professional should expect that a skill learned in their twenties should protect them the rest of their life. Continuing to learn and adapt is necessary in today’s economy. Ultimately every business must find the value that it provides its customer.
Democratisation creates web developers, designers, video editors, game creators and even writers out of individuals. The world will always need professionals. There will always be a place for film studios, editors, and lighting specialists to create blockbusters or the next must-see TV show, but that should not stop a small business from being able to produce their own product introduction or training video.
As developers, engineers and technologists – we all strive for this. Or we should. Technology is there to aid and make easier, not to be exclusive for those with the money or years of experience.
There is a thrill in building products that open up new possibilities for wider audiences. There is a thrill is seeing what people build with that newfound access to skills and tools. Democratisation of technology is important to continue to reduce the barriers which block or limit human creation.
Technologies that have made easier will continue to change our lives. 3D printing is already be used daily for novel, personalized medical treatments. New livelihoods are being built on platforms which enable small businesses to create websites and apps without the need to hire a developer. These are often life-changing, business building, and amazingly impactful - Technology professionals would do well to continue supporting and developing products that open these kinds of experiences.
- Uval Blumenfeld is product manager at Wix Code (opens in new tab). He is passionate about working on technology that empowers people by making them more creative through coding.