12 tech leaders’ resolutions for 2012

Make technology more human

By Caterina Fake, Entrepreneur (As told to Colleen Taylor)

Caterina Fake is a serial web entrepreneur who is co-founder of Flickr and Hunch and an investor in companies like Etsy. Fake is working on a new web startup that will be consumer-facing and social and will launch in 2012. We asked Fake about what she learned in 2011 and what she hopes to accomplish in 2012.

The whole idea of New Year’s resolutions is an interesting one: You wipe the slate clean, have a new year and a new beginning. It’s a very important ritual. This year I’m in a lucky position, because I have a brand new business I just started this past summer. It’s almost six months old, and we’ll be launching the company to the public in the new year. So I’m already in a position where it’s a new, fresh start, and I’m enthusiastic and optimistic about 2012 because of that.

Part of my resolve this year is to make this new company flourish. I want to build a community that’s as thriving as the one in Flickr. And next year will be about a change of focus, as we go from building stuff and being inward-facing to launching it and becoming outward-facing. 2011 has been about being heads down and working with the team; 2012 will be much more about going out and interacting with users. It’s going to be a gradual process — we’ll probably start off in a closed beta for a while — but it’s going to be a big change overall.

I’ve always had a very positive view of what the possibilities of technology are. I think my job in this business is to continue to cultivate the spirit of invention, and the spirit of building things, of making things, and of connecting people. Focusing on all the positive things that the net does and continuing to make sure that those things flourish. I see my life’s work as making technology more human. So in the face of all these crazy things that are happening — SOPA, social media being used to promote terrorism, addictive software — it’s important that was understand any tool can be used in different ways: You can use a hammer to build a cabinet, or a house, or you can use a hammer to break things, or hurt people. You need to use tools for positive ends.

It is an idiosyncrasy in our biology that we have brain triggers that are easily manipulated by technology. We are sensitive to certain stimuli, so that when we were Neanderthals dragging our knuckles on the ground we’d say, “Ooh! A berry!” and pluck it. That feeling is reproduced in our brains with Twitter, Facebook updates, and especially games. We get a dopamine rush whenever we see the tech equivalent of a berry and it’s one of the of the hazards of using technology. A friend of mine just told me how he sat down to play ten minutes of Minecraft and the next thing he knew, it was five hours later and it was 4 o’clock in the morning. That’s incredibly common.

How can you prevent this? First of all, you have to recognize that this is happening. Checking your smartphone for new Twitter updates or emails or Facebook messages can become an unconscious habit. Then you can step back from it and be aware, and use technology in a more thoughtful and human way. I love technology. I’m a techno-utopian. But you can also tip into compulsive and addictive behaviors with it. So you have to be super-conscious about it.

One of the things I try to do when I build software is to find a balance between making products that will naturally appeal to people, but without being exploitative of human nature. It is a challenge but
I think it’s doable. I’m interested in user-generated content, community, collaboration and people’s creativity and self-expression. When you work with these kinds of things, technology can make you more human, rather than less; it can be humanizing rather than de-humanizing. How to build something like this is an art, not a science. There’s no formula. You have to feel your way there.

As for more traditional resolutions, I know a lot of people probably make resolutions to wake up earlier, and get more done, but if anything, I’d say my goal is to sleep later! I have a young daughter,
and I often get up a lot earlier than I want to. And like a lot of people in this industry, I don’t get quite enough sleep. But I’m a big believer in its benefits. A lot of people out there go into heroics about how little they sleep they get, but the thing I’d prefer to brag about is how *much* sleep I get. There’s been a lot of brain research to show how, if you’re a creative person and you’re thinking and
learning and reading a lot, you need to get more sleep for your brain to absorb everything. The more you sleep, the smarter and more creative you are.