We’re standing at a crossroads. All of us who have a stake in the future of technology – especially brand leaders – have to take responsibility for our role in engineering a more open, resilient, and optimistic tomorrow.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a position of influence, you need to stand up. You may be running a company, advising legislators, or helping organizations and governments set their future strategies. If so, it’s your job to be pushing things in the right direction – one that will result in a better future for all.

This effort begins with ensuring that brands are engineered to genuinely enhance our lives, online and offline. Nothing has put this theory to the test like the pandemic. Covid-19 has caused entire businesses to pivot online, shifted how we interact and collaborate, and has allowed us to keep each other informed and ourselves safe.

The last two years have shown us how important technology has become to our survival as a society. But, as we found ourselves sitting in isolation with only a computer for company, it has also acted as a colossal reminder that nature and human interaction are essential to our physical, emotional, and mental health.

After the drudgery of living in a state of a pandemic, most of us look forward to experiencing life through the physical world again. So, when Facebook announced its commitment to the Metaverse – an even more immersive internet – it felt somewhat ill-timed.

I am all for more holistic digital experiences and recognize that the Metaverse represents an inevitable new “arms race” among Big Tech players. But there’s a downside. It’s not just about timing and the prospect of spending even more time online. There is the genuine risk that the next iteration of the internet maintains and even amplifies the shortcomings of the current internet, many of which Big Tech created.

The internet started as a decentralized space with a shared vision of access and transparency. Now, it is a centralized platform controlled by a few key players, resulting in the challenges we now face in terms of our security, privacy, freedom, and wellbeing – and not just online. The next iteration, Web 3.0, is an emerging idea that directly responds to these failures; a way of decentralizing power so that people control their own data, identity, and destiny. While others, especially Big Tech, want to think of the Metaverse as Web 3.0.

“In a sense, we have to use the internet to get off the internet.”

For society, the internet today presents unprecedented threats to our security, privacy, freedom, and wellbeing. I genuinely believe it’s not an overstatement to say that the way we advance the internet today will determine the future of humanity. It’s too important to leave solely in the hands of Big Tech players. We have to build brands, products, and services that enhance our lives more than ever. In a sense, we have to use the internet to get off the internet. By stepping away from our devices, we become inspired by the people and world around us.

For far too long, most brand leaders left the tech to the technicians and consequently haven’t been part of the entire conversation. Too many have overlooked the fact that the possibilities of billions of people connected with open access to knowledge are not exclusively a question of engineering. It’s about human behavior, anthropology, and society.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. In an interactive space, a brand’s behavior defines its character, making the internet the purest form of branding – which means, by default, we’ve anointed software engineers as modern brand architects.

With brand leaders missing from the technology conversation, branding becomes an afterthought; the clothing a person wears rather than their true character. Technology is behavior, and behavior is the brand. To design it, you must engage at its essence, not just the surface – impossible without a deeper understanding of the internet technology that makes these online experiences possible.

In my 30 years in this industry, I’ve been an observer and – in a small way – a co-architect of the online world we live in today. In the early days, we thought we were changing the world for good; saving trees, promoting equality, challenging power, the whole nine yards. I couldn’t have imagined that internet data would become one of the most significant pollutants in the world, internet access would increase inequalities, and we’d help create corporations that have more power than many individual nations.

“In an interactive space, a brand’s behavior defines its character, making the internet the purest form of branding – which means, by default, we’ve anointed software engineers as modern brand architects.”

Therein lies the crossroads. Will we create a more human future by increasing people’s freedoms and wellbeing on a sustainable planet, or will it continue down the current path towards centralized power, misinformation, and distraction?

For me, the choice is clear. We must redouble our commitment to designing for loyalty, not addiction, accept our social responsibility, and hold ourselves accountable to the highest possible ethical standards, even (and especially) when no regulations exist. We must respect privacy, ensure security, nurture equity, assure accessibility, promote open access, combat false narratives and, ultimately, use the internet to get off the internet, enabling us all to live more fulfilling lives together in the real world.

Just like democracy, the “American Dream”, or any pursuit we collectively believe in, the internet’s ideals are frail without our continued commitment. As brand leaders, it is our craft to inject humanity into our work; it’s time we do so with technology. By doing so, we can increase people’s freedoms, opportunities, and wellbeing by giving them the guidance they need to make smart choices and the tools to decide how they live life on their own terms.

Engineering a more open, resilient, and optimistic future won’t happen overnight, but if we work together, we can deliver. We should expect nothing less of ourselves – because tomorrow’s triumphs are merely the accumulation of our daily wins along the way.

Cover image source: cottonbro