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Technology Run Amok


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Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Revolution of Everything

By way of several examples, Chapter One presents the nature of the transformation/revolution due to the unprecedented advance of technology we are undergoing. The examples range from those that are transforming the inherent nature and structure of reality to those that are transforming our minds and bodies. Each illustrates a particular type of crisis caused by technology.

Chapter Two: It's All About Systems

Chapter Two revisits the examples in Chapter One from the standpoint of systems. It first examines what is and what isn't a system. It then shows that every aspect of our being is part and parcel of complex, messy systems. The failure to think systemically is responsible for our inability to cope with the most complex, messy system of all-reality itself. Worst of all, it leads to crises that challenge our abilities to cope effectively.

Chapter Three: Wicked Messes

The Pioneering Work of Horst Rittel and Russ Ackoff

Chapter Three extends the concept of complex, messy systems even further. It shows that the systems of which we are increasingly a part are more complex than anything we've ever encountered. At every level of our existence and being, we are not only dealing with, but we are part of wicked messes.

The supreme challenge is how one manages, better yet, copes with wicked messes. This is especially critical since crises are some of the prime components of wicked messes. There are no such things as self-standing, individual crises that are totally distinct and separate from one another. Although Chapter Ten treats crisis management in detail, every chapter introduces key components of it. Taken together, they lead to a substantial revision of our previous ideas and knowledge of crisis management.

Step-by-step, the book builds up the intellectual concepts and the emotional fortitude that are necessary in first recognizing and then treating the daunting crises that are integral parts of wicked messes.

Chapter Four: The Psychodynamics of Messes

The Pioneering Work of Melanie Klein and Donald Winicott

Chapter Four discusses the work of the enormously influential child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. It shows the psychological difficulties in merely acknowledging the existence of complex, messy systems, let alone in dealing with them. To put it mildly, this makes the recognition of the crises that are associated with complex, messy systems even more difficult.

The chapter shows how our minds are organized in such a way that we characteristically split the world into "good" versus "bad guys and/or forces." For instance, recently Mark Zuckerberg has claimed, "Old people can't do tech." Similar claims have been made that "tech is a man's game," Needless to say, this makes the treatment of complex, messy systems-not to mention crises--even messier and more complex.

There is a deeper implication still of Klein's work. For instance, Facebook has rightly been accused of undermining trust in our institutions as a result of its serving as a platform for Fake News, salacious ads, etc. Klein's work shows who the initial source of trust is for humans. The point is the violation of trust stirs up feelings and emotions that lie deep in the makeup of humans. In short, technologists are messing around with forces of which they have very little understanding. It's the stuff of an immense backlash against technology and technologists.

Most importantly, Klein's works shows what we need to do to overcome such difficulties.

Chapter Five: Why Bigger Is Not Always Better,

Further Thoughts on Complex, Messy Systems

Chapter Five discusses another feature of complex, messy systems that confounds them even further. They are plagued through and through by fundamental paradoxes that makes coping with them extremely difficult. Unless one is aware of such paradoxes, one has no hope of handling them whatsoever. The management of complex, messy systems-and thus crises--is inextricably tied to the management of paradox.

Chapter Six: Big Data Big Wisdom:

Mismanaging 21st Century Problems with 19th Century Thinking

Chapter Six discusses the phenomenon of Big Data. It does it from the unique vantage point of Inquiry Systems. Inquiry Systems are fundamentally different philosophical systems that not only have very different definitions of knowledge and truth, but very different ways of producing and arriving at them. The Inquiry Systems that are appropriate for simple problems-bounded, well-structured exercises-are grossly inappropriate for complex, messy systems. This is especially true of wicked messes, and hence crises.

An important outcome is that Fake News is the result of Fake Inquiry; hence, the importance of understanding Inquiry Systems.

To reiterate, step-by-step, the book both introduces and builds up the intellectual concepts and the emotional fortitude that are necessary in first recognizing and then treating the enormous crises that constitute wicked messes.

Chapter Seven: The Ethics of Complex Messy Systems

Chapter Eight deals with an important aspect of systems, Ethics. It thus lays the groundwork for treating the countless ethical issues that are associated with The Technological Mindset.

Chapter Eight: How Technology Both Enhances and Diminishes Our Humanity

Chapter Eight deals with one of the most important wicked messes of all, The Technological Mindset, the mutually reinforcing set of attitudes and beliefs that are not only behind, but are ultimately responsible for the current transformation/revolution we are struggling to understand, and even more, to manage. Given its importance, it is highly disconcerting that the full set of beliefs that comprise The Technological Mindset has not been assembled previously so that it can not only be properly appraised, but thereby examined for its contributions to crises.

Chapter Nine: Contesting The Technological Mindset:

A Humanistic Mindset

Chapter Nine gives a counter to The Technological Mindset. This is absolutely necessary if we are to mitigate, if not avoid, the crises due to technology.

Chapter Ten: Crisis Management: Coping With Technology

Chapter Ten discusses the basics of crisis management. In particular, it examines various strategies for coping with major crises. Most important of all, it examines the special crises brought on by our extreme dependence on technology. For example, it discusses crises of meaning due to the loss of jobs and whole industries. Crises of meaning are due basically to the loss of self-esteem, hope, and a sense of purpose that one is valued.

Chapter Eleven: Inquiry Systems,

William James, John Dewey, Edward Singer, C West Churchman

Chapter Eleven presents a more comprehensive overview of Inquiry Systems. Inquiry Systems are the underlying basis of understanding, and thus coping, with wicked messes. Once again, it shows that Fake News is due to perverse forms of Fake Inquiry.

Chapter Twelve: Future Crises,

William James, John Dewey, Edward Singer, C West Churchman

Chapter Twelve employs a central feature of Singer's philosophy as a broad guide in thinking about future crises.


Finally, the Epilogue summarizes the main lessons of the book. In particular, it summarizes the lessons for coping with the major crises brought on by our unremitting and unreflective addiction to technology.

About the Author

Ian Mitroff is Senior Affiliate of The Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, University of California - Berkeley, USA. He is Professor Emeritus of the Annenberg School of Communication and the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, USA, where he was the Harold Quinton Distinguished Professor of Business Policy. Dr. Mitroff is regarded as one of the founders of the discipline of Crisis Management and founded and directed the USC Center for Crisis Management. Known for his thinking and writing on a wide range of business and societal issues, he is the author of 37 books and is a frequent blogger for the Huffington Post.

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