Society doesn’t do a good job of identifying the harmful effects of new innovations and technologies once they have taken hold in popular culture. True believers never want to hold back progress, so they resist improvements and changes that could offset the negative effect of these new innovations.
Think tobacco, plastic bottles, guns, sugar, X-rays, and puppy mills, among many other examples. Today, new innovations spread so quickly that a thoughtful examination of drawbacks is almost impossible. The positive features and benefits of a cool new innovation can overwhelm the conversation and drown out any attempt to restrain its acceptance or use.
We clearly cannot depend on authority figures, social commentary, or the government to protect us from the long-term harmful effects of new technologies and innovations as they take the world by storm. That job is left to local leaders — parents, teachers, coaches, and team leaders. Only leaders can take the long view and advocate for commonsense constraints, or even the elimination of what others find so appealing.
Parents, for example, who are waiting for social rules about when children should have a cell phone or unlimited access to the Internet are destined to be disappointed. No such wisdom or help is coming. Like so much of leadership in all venues, leaders have to make difficult choices and find their own path forward, regardless of what everyone else is doing.
Remembering that it is up to us to set the boundaries, rules, and choices about new innovations is both healthy and necessary. Following the herd means inevitably looking back in time and realizing we were blind to the better choices right in front of us.
Real leaders consider unintended consequences and make the courageous decisions to get the best from new innovations without letting them run roughshod over those we lead, including children.
We are on our own when it comes to deciding how much is too much or too little of what we experience through new technologies and innovations. Leadership requires us to stand against the headwind of excitement and make the best choices over the long run — like evaluating how much time we spend on computers, smartphones, and screens.
Maybe it’s time to reevaluate many of our daily choices. Of course, that requires we lead. And that is never easy.