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Technology contrarian

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It’s not easy swimming against the tide of popular opinion. I’ve done that on occasions in this blog and have sometimes been criticised for my views. I’ve learned that challenging conventional wisdom makes you an easy target. But I refuse to be silenced by self-appointed experts who often turn out to be incorrect.

In this blog, I comment on contemporary political, economic, social and technological issues. And yes, I sometimes take a position which runs counter to predominant paradigms. But I rationally argue my case and explain how I reached my conclusion.

I never set out to be a contrarian when I started this blog in 2008. My simple aim was to educate and inform. But over time, I came to realise how often “experts” are mistaken. More disturbingly, their predictions are invariably taken as gospel - and not to be questioned by Doubting Thomases like me!

However, I cannot “get on the bus” of prevailing sentiment if I believe that it’s going in the wrong direction. To do so would compromise my integrity. Nonetheless, it’s no fun being the odd man out. So, when I offer an opinion that separates me from the pack, it’s not done lightly.

Indeed, I always feel some trepidation when I go out on a limb, especially when it comes to technology. Disruptive innovation has few critics which is why I try to bring a measured dose of scepticism. As Time magazine has noted: “The graveyard of technology is riddled with failed products”.

Over recent years there have been several novel innovations which have been proclaimed as game-changers by the acolytes of the tech industry. Many of these innovations have failed spectacularly to live up to the unwarranted exaggeration and fanfare that surrounded their introduction.

In this blog, I have commented on a number of these innovations - gadgets, gizmos and devices - that were hailed at the time as “the next big thing”. However, I had a different take and saw them - quite rightly as it turns out - as the next big epic failure.

That Google Glass flopped, Apple Watch fizzled and Bitcoin flunked was not a surprise to me. Each was a solution in search of a problem which is why they ended up on the list of unsuccessful products. While every breakthrough is presented as a triumph, getting consumers to embrace new technology isn’t easy.

Makers of wearable technology have learned that lesson. Predictions that wearables would rapidly go from high-tech novelty to everyday necessity have not materialised. As I opined in a September 2015 post: “I cannot see wearable technology becoming the new dress code for the masses anytime soon”.

My attitude to wearables has not changed - they still have a long way to go to become mainstream (if ever!). But for that to occur, there will need to be a merging of technology with fashion. Meantime, analysts continue to pump out reports trumpeting the prospects of the wearable technology sector.

Like wearables, my sense is that the forecast scale of adoption of Open Banking is also being exaggerated. I think that proponents are getting a little ahead of themselves in describing Open Banking as a financial revolution. It hasn’t even been launched in Australia yet, so care needs to be exercised about counting chickens before they hatch.

Undoubtedly, some consumers will be attracted to Open Banking, but will it fundamentally change the financial landscape as some are claiming? The Federal Government (which intends to follow the UK and force banks to open their customer data to competitors) believes Open Banking will open the floodgates to new entrants to boost competition.

Australia’s big four banks are understandably concerned about security and data privacy issues related to Open Banking. Moreover, recent research reveals that only seven per cent of Australians would be comfortable sharing their financial data with an Internet start-up. It would take just one major data breach under the new Open Banking regime to undermine trust and confidence in data sharing.

Techno-enthusiasts invariably hype technology well beyond what is reasonably justifiable. They expect things to go one way, but they often go another. High technology is filled with promise and peril and this creates a yawning gap between fact and fiction. The grim reality is that most new technology does not take the world by storm.

To be clear, I am neither Luddite nor high-tech heretic. On the contrary, I welcome innovation that solves human problems and makes our lives easier. But we must avoid uncritically embracing every new product idea just because it’s technically possible. Overselling ideas benefits no one - remember the promise of the paperless office?

It’s important that perspectives are challenged otherwise groupthink sets in and we all become conformists. Independent and critical thinking enables me to see black where others see white. As Mark Twain said: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”.

I do a lot of reflecting.


Paul J. Thomas, CEO


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CEO Paul Thomas