Vimla Appadoo (00:02): Hi, I'm Vimla Appadoo.
Tim Panton (00:02): And I'm Tim Panton.
Vimla Appadoo (00:05): And welcome to the Distributed Future podcast, where we talk about all things future, trends, upcoming things and creating a vision for what we think might or might not happen in the future. Today we're doing our 2020 round up of things that have stuck in our mind and things that we think are going to happen in 2021. And for me, one of the things that is really at the forefront of my mind and what I'm talking about a lot at the moment is, this growing consciousness for tech providers or people who work in technology to consider more people and to be even more aware of who they're including or excluding from the technology that they're building.
Tim Panton (00:49): Yeah. I think it goes even broader than that in the sense that people are starting to realize that it's their responsibility and it's their responsibility at all levels. I mean, Jillian York was saying that in the previous episode about people within large companies actually have a surprising amount of power to influence the actions of those companies. And simply saying, "No, we won't build this," actually may have a significant effect, and more people need to start doing that was kind of what she was saying. And I think that's right, but we're only just starting to see people kind of realize that power.
Vimla Appadoo (01:26): Yeah, definitely. And even breaking down some of the what was Silicon Valley culture of move fast and break things and actually move fast and consider everything or move slow and do it right. One of the things that's really against it to me is we have enough technology at the moment. We don't need more. So we can slow down with the applications and be more conscious of how it can be applied and the good within it.
Tim Panton (01:57): It's interesting that that is actually possible. And you know, if a tech company tells you that it isn't, they're wrong. Because Google did this thing with, they shifted, with Chrome. This is kind of not directly related, but it shows that it's possible. With Chrome, they changed their policy about what gets in as an update because they realized that, you know, during working from home and the whole lockdown, the people were incredibly dependent on Chrome. And so they changed what it was that they were prepared to push us updates. Like a lot of the risky stuff they simply didn't push because they couldn't take the risk of breaking things. Which is interesting as you say, as a contrast to the move fast and break things. Like, you know, it's perfectly possible not to do that as a big tech company.
Vimla Appadoo (02:50): Yeah. And even more, I think from my perspective as a small tech company is, if you want to be a big player in the next 10 years, is to move slowly. Not in how you get things live but in the decisions that you're making. So being more conscious of not making off the cuff decisions that could have a really adverse effect. When you roll it out, it's taking the time to really consider, have you done the research? Have you spoken to people? Do you really know what's going to happen if this goes wrong?
Tim Panton (03:23): Right. I remember-- I don't actually remember who it was, but we talked to somebody a long time ago about topic of company culture came up, and they said, "Oh, it comes from the founders. If you don't get it right early on, you won't get it right." Just thought it was fascinating.
Vimla Appadoo (03:44): Yeah. I think that kind of robust culture change halfway through a company is much harder than if you try and do it at the beginning.
Tim Panton (03:55): I mean, do you think it's possible?
Vimla Appadoo (03:58): I do. But it takes a lot of acceptance that things have been wrong so far or not the best they could be. And that then takes a big person to be able to take that on and recognize that the way they'd done things might not have been right.
Tim Panton (04:15): Yeah. Do you think there are kind of ways that people can be helped to see that?
Vimla Appadoo (04:22): Yeah. I mean, and again, it depends on how willing the organization is to hold a mirror up to themselves. Like if they're going to look at the data and see that, you know, people only stay in the job for a year then leave, that's a big indicator that something's probably going wrong. Or, you know, productivity rates are low or they've not been able to meet the client's expectations or whatever it is, there will be indicators. And often what you'll see is leaders either throwing money at it through a Christmas party or a team away day or the stuff that gives you an immediate endorphin hit rather than doing the hard work to try and change that culture.
Tim Panton (05:04): Mm hmm. And that's about culture change particularly, another thing it's partly about individuals admitting they were wrong even just to themselves. I don't think we're good at that at the moment. I really don't.
Vimla Appadoo (05:20): No, not at all. And not admitting that we're wrong, but even accepting that it's okay to change your mind. I think...
Tim Panton (05:33): And also, that the world has changed around you. I mean, I think a lot of people are hanging onto the idea that the world is exactly what it was when they were teenagers, and it simply isn't.
Vimla Appadoo (05:47): No, or even with COVID, that there's something to go back to. Well, there's not a moment in time that you're going to go back to. Things have changed and they will change forever because [unintelligible 6:03] everything falls back into what was normal, you know. It's not like-- You wouldn't say, "Oh, let's go back to how we lived in the 1920s," you know?
Tim Panton (06:13): Right. No, and I mean, the 20s is a kind of interesting example because that's also post a pandemic. So yeah, no, I kind of I think that's right. I think hopefully, the podcast can bring some ideas about what those changes might look like. And I think it's still a little hard to read. Several people have said to us that we're on a tipping point or a transition or you know, you've just said it as well effectively. And that always makes it hard to see where things are going to go. But I do think there's at least more awareness of these issues. And I think particularly, some of the more upbeat things were actually not from Europe and the US, so I think some of the kind of conversations that we had that had a more positive vibe were actually from like New Zealand or Africa. And maybe we need to start kind of in the West start imbibing some of that spirit, some of those kinds of ways of thinking, because I don't know, I just feel like a lot of the European stuff was quite, not gloomy but like, "Oh, this is difficult."
Vimla Appadoo (07:35): Yeah. Although I completely agree. I think we tell ourselves it's difficult or it's not worth it. We've lost that creating a change attitude. It's not about the change anymore, it's about the outcome or the profit, whereas I think what we saw in Kenya and Zambia was a much more, "We're just going to do it, we're just going to see what happens. If it doesn't work, at least we tried." And I don't have that feeling from the West anymore.
Tim Panton (08:08): But also the banking folks were doing, they did their research. They went out and they spent a lot of effort finding out what it was that people wanted, what it was that the market didn't serve. And then they built their tech around that. And I think I sort of, I'm not even sure I heard anybody like that we talked to doing that in the Western group. I mean, that's a huge oversimplification, that's probably not even fair to be honest. But you know, I do feel the tenor of those conversations was different somehow.
Vimla Appadoo (08:48): Yeah, no, I agree.
Tim Panton (08:53): So what stands out for you in the last year? What do you kind of-- What are your aha moments?
Vimla Appadoo (09:00): I think one of my biggest is more the fact that we don't have to expect this anymore. Like for the majority of my life, it was just accepted that you had to go into work every day into an office. And you only took an hour for lunch where you'd probably just scoff a sandwich and, you know, there was flexible working everywhere that I've worked, but it was never real flexible working. It always came with an if and a but and only when and through to the Black Lives Matter movement or what working remotely means in the sense of physical location. For me, the big aha moment was that actually, I can [unintelligible 9:44] what I took for granted or what I took as the norm completely and create a way of working and living that suits me.
Tim Panton (09:54): So the really funny thing about that is that we'd had that conversation in, I think it's episode seven. And like we both sort of took it on, but like it turns out that that actually was just bang on. And some of the lessons that were in that, people are still not kind of really picking up on about, you know, how to work asynchronously. So I think that one-- I mean, it's not in 2020 at all although I think it is the lesson for 2020 as you say. It's like, you know, but I think also the not accepting, I do like your point about that. Not having to accept this, you know, this is the only way it can be done type of logic. I think that's great. I mean, you know, some of the things that we've heard in the last year kind of are-- Like one that stood out for me was this idea that Rebecca Carro said about how it's perfectly possible to run a website without funding it with advertising. Like what? You really could? So I thought that was fascinating. And maybe we should be like, you know, hoping to try and do some more of that. It was almost traditional economics she was talking about like, you know.
Vimla Appadoo (11:18): Yeah, exactly. I've got friends now who are looking for jobs, and they're taking a bit of a career broke and I'm kind of like, "Oh, well use this time to figure out how you want to work." You know, if you're not a morning person, you don't have to be in your next job. And there's still that resistance, "No, no, I don't want to fall too out of a pattern of waking up at seven and blah, blah, blah." And I'm like, "No, you don't have to do that anymore. It's yours to create or yours to think through." And I think there is still that big leap of faith that's needed to trust employees and employers to understand that life has changed. And I think they're in a massive position of privilege, they working in tech and tech startups that are starting from a clean slate without those rhythms and rituals there.
Tim Panton (12:07): Yeah. Although, I think we're in for quite a-- A lot of organizations are in for quite a surprise when they find that you can get real quality work. If you're prepared to allow a little bit of asynchronous working, you know, few hours in the time zone either way, whatever. You can get real quality work done by people who you will never meet. And, you know, I've just finished a project co-working with somebody who, I'm not going to say a great deal about it, but like he's in Southern Africa. And, you know, we've got a lot of work done. You have to shift the time zones a little bit, you have to be kind of more intentional about the communication because you aren't sitting in the same office. But apart from that, we've just got a lot of work done. And it's suited both our timetables. The same with the transcription of this podcast, we've just moved to getting it taken, stopped using, almost stopped using the automated transcription, which is driving me nuts and using a real person. And you know, it's not somebody who I'm ever going to share an office with, I will probably never meet her. But it doesn't matter because we get quality work done at a reasonable price and everyone's happy. It's like if you're prepared to kind of take a little hit on the timing perhaps, then it's a huge win. And I think more and more we're going to see that people flexibility. And it'd be interesting to see whether there's technology that supports that, I want to call it temporal flexibility of like, you know, you saying, "Oh, well, I'm not really a morning person, I want to get things done in the afternoon." Or, you know, "Well, actually, I get my best work between nine and 12, and after that, I'm pretty much useless," you know, whatever. And to an extent we're going to see technology that actually like supports that would be really interesting. This year has been interesting because there's been a huge focus on real-time communications. Like, when we're chatting now, but it's for a podcast that's delayed. And so I think that kind of dichotomy is still being worked through. People are still sort of thinking about communication as being real time. And I think a lot of it isn't, a lot of is delayed.
Vimla Appadoo (14:48): I completely agree. And actually that kind of technology to do that handover between time zones is what I've always missed. I just need someone in a different country to just give me a roundup of where they got to so I can pick it up effectively, which I'm sure exists for code, but like the work I do, I haven't seen it done well.
Tim Panton (15:12): So the joke is that Google had it. So Wave. This was the thing that Google Wave. I've said this-- Like, it's been a little rant of mine for years. Google Wave was built by the Australian bit of Google. It was the Australian office. And they were just so used to being out of time zone with everybody else. There were a couple of hours out from everybody else. So they built this technology that was really good at doing asynchronous conversations. The thing it would let you do, which I haven't seen anything else do, is you could play through the timeline. So you could come in in the morning and play through the conversation that other people had had in the chat. But then you could insert your comments in the right place in the timeline, and people would get notified. But it was almost like you'd been there for the conversation. I mean, it didn't totally work, and the user interface was so heavy and like, but conceptually, they had this thing down, that you could do this. And it was the ability to replay the conversation in your time that was so clever.
Vimla Appadoo (16:25): Yeah. That's what I've missed.
Tim Panton (16:29): Yeah, right. Exactly. But I mean, you know, it got buried and as with Google, they kill products almost too soon. It's kind of odd that they've got the money to not do it, but like, you know, it's almost like they get bored too quickly.
Vimla Appadoo (16:46): Yeah. But I also understand there are too many fingers in too many pies that it must be hard to maintain that much stuff. But I say that, they're a multi-billionaire company, they shouldn't find it hard.
Tim Panton (17:03): Well, no, I suppose intrinsically it's always going to be hard because it is complicated, but I feel like-- Anyway, it'll be interesting to see whether any of those sort of concepts resurface in the next year or so. I think...
Vimla Appadoo (17:17): They have to. I think we're moving to a much more global workforce. And in order to do that effectively, we need to be ready to embrace that kind of technology.
Tim Panton (17:28): Yeah, yeah, no, for sure. And I think also that it can't come from a monolith. I think that's the other thing that was sort of bubbled under in the last few months of this podcast. Is the idea that these monolithic solutions don't really work. They're very inflexible. Particularly as it comes to things like diversity, they don't move fast enough to catch up with reality. So I think some of the things that are more, maybe more standards based, although that can be quite a slow process as well, might be interesting. So yeah, I don't know how we can get that flexibility in, but I do worry about the monoliths.
Vimla Appadoo (18:18): Yeah. Well, that kind of leads into the final point I think I'm taking forward into 2021, which is caring for the world. I think 2020 has hit my social conscience of climate change and impact and buying locally and sustainably more so than ever before. Focus on renewables and being as self-sufficient as possible, I definitely think is going to be a big thing in the next few years.
Tim Panton (18:53): Fascinating. But I don't know if you remember, we had the interview with, oh gosh, Anne Currie about the big data centers, and how they're all huge fossil field consumers. And she and a couple of others ran a campaign, and it's actually been very successful that Amazon are now moving to renewable fueling of their data centers, looking to push more out to the edges. Google already, I think they're already a hundred percent renewable for their data centers. So it's like over the, whatever it is, two years since that talk, that's actually changed. Which I think is a huge step forward. I mean, you know, given that they are vast consumers of energy. I think it's great that that's happening, although I'd like them to consume less as well as just doing. Well, I mean, you know, renewable is great, it's a good start. But actually kind of racking back on your consumption would be interesting as well, but yeah. I think it'll be interesting to see how that plays out in tech. And I wonder also about some of the sort of reusability stuff like, you know, how long does your laptop last for? That kind of thing. And to what extent is it maybe repurposable? Maybe you don't want to keep using it indefinitely, but maybe it kind of gets to stand in for your TV or, you know, kind of somehow be more long-term useful.
Vimla Appadoo (20:46): Yeah, definitely. Well, and improvements to urban farming or home farming, I think is going to be big. If people have the space, how you use the space available to have a greenhouse or set up hydroponics or use your boiler room to grow mushrooms, all of that kind of stuff, I think is going to be really interesting to see how it becomes more individual-based.
Tim Panton (21:12): Yeah. I think it would be fun to try and find some people to talk about that. We've failed to get anyone kind of from the vertical farming type. I did want to try and find a vertical farmer to talk to us. If anyone's listening who knows about vertical farming, I'd love to talk to you about it because it's something that's been on my list of things I want to learn about and I just haven't somehow. So any other kind of things that we need to mention about last year that like or the next year that we've missed out on?
Vimla Appadoo (21:52): I don't think so. I think I've given all my rants in previous podcasts about social change and like Black Lives Matter and how to keep hopeful in 2021.
Tim Panton (22:05): Yeah. I think my only remaining rant is that I think we need to understand the value of the kind of middle sector, of things that aren't corporations, aren't for profit corporations, and that aren't government, but that they're sitting in the middle. We keep coming up across really interesting, really effective not-for-profit organizations that are doing really, really good work. And they might be guilds, they might be trusts, there's a whole lot of legal structures, but I think those things are super interesting. And I kind of hope that we see more of those doing good work because it's like they seem to be the things that are making the most constructive change to be honest.
Vimla Appadoo (22:50): I agree. Completely agree.
Tim Panton (22:53): Cool. Well, I encourage everyone to subscribe to the podcast. We'll have lots more interesting conversations with people on the boundaries between tech and society and doing new things in the next year. Thank you for listening.
Vimla Appadoo (23:10): Happy New Year.
Tim Panton (23:10): Yeah. Happy New Year.