From the CTO

11 March 2022
By Janet Scannell
Janet Scannell
Janet Scannell

I recently re-watched the original Matrix movie from 1999. The idea of an earth overtaken by robots and a ruined climate for humans with a “better world” available in a virtual reality environment seemed completely far-fetched at the time. It’s still unrealistic, but it raised new thoughts for me about how we make sense of technology change. 

In 1999, I didn’t have a cell phone much less a virtual reality headset. Now that I have used an Oculus headset, I have a personal appreciation of how a VR environment can feel real, whether it’s the adrenaline rush of Beat Saber or the immersive experience of a 3D puzzle.

One of the questions that has historically been raised about technology is whether it’s “good.” Would it be good to be able to virtually travel somewhere I would never see otherwise?  or to virtually taste the best steak I’ve ever had in a way that feels real to my brain? 

My personal philosophy is that there’s little inherent value in technology, but rather value in what it can help us do. This time, I felt empathy when the traitor in The Matrix was lured by a tantalizing virtual steak. I’m more receptive to the value of that steak because the environment feels less foreign to me than it did 23 years ago. I have enough context to internalize how that could feel. 

I’ve been thinking about technology change lately in terms of context, value, and disruption. When the context makes sense, and the value is clear, then the disruption is more palatable. This was largely the case when Carleton moved to the Google Suite six years ago. Many community members already had Gmail accounts, most understood that it was a good product and (according to our surveys) nearly all Carls were able to get through the disruption of the transition successfully.  

ITS is currently partnering with functional departments on campus (including Human Resources and the Business Office) to move from The Hub to Workday. Administrative software is usually pretty “value neutral,” in that it serves an important purpose like registering for classes or entering vacation time, and yet those processes feel rather unremarkable when they work well. And that is as it should be. The Workday implementation (the cornerstone project of the SEAMS initiative) will make us aware of our processes for a period of time in the same way that a sprained ankle makes you more aware of the act of walking. 

The purpose of the various public presentations about SEAMS and its new blog are to enhance awareness of the context of the current and upcoming environments. Why is this change needed? And what will it mean for each of us?  The SEAMS Project Manager (Matt Klooster) and Team Leaders (Julie Creamer, Linda Thornton, and Kerstin Cardenas) will be offering chances to learn more (in increasing detail as we proceed) with the goal of making the disruption of moving to new software and new processes as smooth as possible. Just as I experienced with The Matrix, our individual background and context will affect how we experience the changes that are to come. 

As much as I’m looking forward to the ways that Workday (and other emerging technologies) will improve the lives of Carleton community members, I also enjoy the real steak (or in my case, the bowl of ice cream) that awaits me after I set down the headset. As always, the value of technology lies in its contributions to our real lives, individually and as a community.

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