The Intersection

Using Tech Without Fear

Navigating the morass of modern technology, with its thousands of apps and ever-changing social media, can make anyone feel overwhelmed — and technologist Ben Hammersley can relate.

“Many, many people come to me and they say, do we have to be on top of everything?” Hammersley says in “Modern Meeting Technology,” the latest video for The Intersection, presented by PCMA and PSAV. “Do we have to be adopting all of these new technologies?”

Hammersley’s answer is a crisp, British “absolutely not.” That might sound surprising coming from the author of nine books on technology, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a technology adviser to government and business, and editor-at-large for Wired magazine (as well as a speaker at PCMA Convening Leaders 2015). Yet Hammersley is emphatic that an all-or-nothing approach to new technology could drive someone to “misery and madness.”

Instead, Hammersley urges a kind of technology temperance. “The first thing to understand is [technology] is not compulsory,” he says. “Technology is not something to be feared. It’s really set up to be useful for you. Approach technology from your needs first.”

How? Hammersley suggests that meeting professionals become “amateur anthropologists” who devote a certain amount of time each week to discovery, using the “mind of a beginner” and direct observation to unearth friction points — those “itches you need to scratch” — that double as opportunities for technological intervention. “And if you do it that way, then things become much less terrifying,” Hammersley says. “I think you’ll find a whole lot of stuff on the market that you didn’t know you needed. The danger is that people look at the technology and they try to find a problem that it solves. They go and buy a thing, and then work out what to do with it.”

A problem-first, technology-second approach is key, according to Hammersley — as is meeting face-to-face, a form of interaction that will maintain its value no matter how often people Skype and Snapchat each other. “It’s human nature to gather together,” he says, noting that a richer stream of information flows between people talking to each other in person than audio, video, or text. “When you meet face-to-face, whether it’s a 10-person meeting or 10,000-person meeting, it’s a much better experience.”

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is associate editor of Convene.