I think we’re all feeling a bit dumbfounded by how we took the feeling of safety for granted before the pandemic. That odd sensation you get when watching a movie where nobody’s wearing a mask in a dense crowd is real. Or, at least for me, the newest member of my “unfavorite dreams” circus — the one where I can’t graduate from high school, the one where all my teeth fall out — is now the one where I’m exposed to some terribly deadly virus. It’s a vulnerable time for many of us. And after the pandemic lifts, we’re all hoping its impact will one day disappear.
Having moved into the safety technology stack (the collection of technologies that keep us safer both physically and digitally) at the end of 2020, I find myself lucky to work on what really matters today: the pursuit of feeling safe again. I’ve learned a lot about what I don’t know, which is literally the foundations of the safety stack’s raison d’etre. We are unsafe when we do not know that bad things are happening to what we care about. On the other hand, we are safe when we get out of the way of the bad things.
COVID-19 turns out to be the kind of uniquely bad thing that has had a prolonged, universal impact. We’re all in the middle of trying to figure out when, or even whether, it will eventually come to an end. Meanwhile, what has become obvious to me is the generational difference in how this crises has been felt and managed. For example, my mother, who is over 80 years old, is grateful that she has had her first vaccine shot. When hearing that some older folks who have received the shot have died, her reaction has been, “If I don’t die from the shot, I’ll be dying from something else soon enough.” Note that this isn’t her being morbid at all. It’s her happy Hawaiian way that has traditionally counteracted her experience growing up during WWII in the Japanese American internment camp era.
It’s helpful to remember that the Boomer generation is not a stranger to prolonged, universal impacts that threaten their existence, having lived through wars. Keep in mind that ever-popular Winston Churchill slogan, now commercialized and plastered on merch all over the world:
In other words, when bad stuff happens, we do our best to soldier through it. If we stumble, we do our best to pick ourselves up. And keep moving forward. When I think of this attitude, the “keep a stiff upper lip” phrase shouted in a Brit accent is what comes to my mind. Boomers are inherently resilient, and I suspect some of them might even wear that Churchill slogan on their bodies — as a tattoo (or at least it’s hanging on a poster somewhere in their house as artwork). They’ve tended to rely on their country to provide them protection, and their expectation has been traditionally low because the ability for a country-level response at scale is understandably difficult to execute well.
Gen-X grew up in a time when they felt less dependent on their country for safety, and more reliant on their company or organization to keep them safe. As a Gen-Xer I certainly felt that way in elementary school, being trained to crouch under a plywood desk in case a nuclear bomb was dropped. Or while putting on a safety belt in an airplane, to protect myself if it were to plummet out of control. I guess in a way we were all learning to trust technologies — like plywood tabletops and nylon belts — to save us from a catastrophe.
Gen-Zs and Millennials have grown up with magical communication devices; they are digital natives who implicitly speak machine. Their security comes packaged in the newish safety tech stack that’s delivered through devices that are all interconnected within the cloud. They fluidly switch their video cameras on to live-stream events unfolding before them to warn, or to inform, others of crises. They’re eminently findable by switching on their GPS to get picked up if they’re stuck on the side of a mountain and need help. I’m sure you’re reading this as a Gen-Xer or Boomer saying, “Hey! That’s me, too!” And that’s certainly increasingly the case.
We’re all turning to our devices and digital networks to enhance our safety today. Instead of fulfilling our need to feel loved via social media, we now want technologies to make us physically safe. That’s where the safety tech stack comes in, or “safety stack,” and it’s one where folks are just learning how to speak machine. With everyone becoming just like a Millennial with their smartphone in hand and with COVID-19’s impact on digital transformation, the safety stack is only rising in importance. Does new technology make you feel safer? It should. And if not yet, it will.