The End of Skill? Optimism and the Risk of Expectations


Share on LinkedIn

Think about the news yesterday, last week, last year. Lots of high tech stories (social media and Apple), and a slew of disasters, from stock market plunges and audible bubble pops to hurricanes, earthquakes, and oil spills.

Now why is it again that bad news is always such a surprise?

People have a way of becoming complacent about comfort and ease and being shocked — SHOCKED — when discomfort and difficulty surface. And, rather stupidly, for too many of us the introduction of incredible ease-creating technology has only added to our expectation of smooth sailing, instead of expanding our capacity for coping with the inevitable.

Two stories bring this to mind today: First, the estimate, reported in the New York Times, that “Hurricane” Irene, despite its overall dudness (and I live in New England, so I’m personally familiar with the flooding) will still manage to rank among the “top 10 costliest catastrophes” in US history. And second, the alarming report from the FAA showing that airline pilots are now so used to flight automation that they are, and I quote, “forgetting how to fly.” So now rain is the end of the world and when a processor goes on the fritz, the pilot will be screaming in panic along with the passengers. Oh, for a little rationality with that optimism.

Here’s where I trot out a word from the world of what’s now called “crisis PR“: preparedness. To be prepared, you have to first have a grasp of possible outcomes, and then actually do something so that you will not be caught with your pants down when one of those possibilities comes to pass. It requires foresight, a certain degree of calm, and a decent dose of competence. It does not happen at the last minute, and it does not consume your every waking hour — there is a balance, and a sense of responsible stewardship that permeates your actions. Crisis management that starts mid-crisis is going to be expensive and only slightly more effective than shaking a fist at the sky and rending your clothes while sobbing, “Why ME?”

Irene and the FAA report both struck me this morning because both point to a weakness in how technology plays into our expectations — a weakness that could easily be a strength instead. The airline point should be obvious: pilot + autopilot should = 2 pilots, not 0 pilots. But with the hurricane, technology was used to predict the storm, to pump up the panic, and, at best, to keep people updated on how other people were doing fixing the problems. (Ex: I followed my local electric co-op’s tweets on my smartphone, when I was in cell range.) But you know what? Knowledge is not necessarily power. Information isn’t inherently useful. Sometimes, in fact, news can be infantilizing instead of empowering.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when our explosion of high tech capabilities intrinsically extends our ability to help ourselves. When networking actually encourages cooperative — or lone — action in the face of crisis. Decentralized electric generation; independent and redundant broadband networks that can remain operative in a disaster; software that expands skills rather than replacing them. Whether in a communications crisis or a natural or mechanical disaster, technology-enabled humans should be more prepared, more competent — not less. Surprises will always happen, but panic and inaction really ought to become, largely, things of the past.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kate Schackai
Kate combines a technical understanding of web 2.0 with classic PR savvy, resulting in online communications that both humans and Google love. She joins Crawford from WordPress development firm TCWebsite, where she worked in online marketing and search engine optimization.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here