Les Enfants Terribles

Posted in art, technology by johnsnavely on May 30, 2011

A few weeks ago, K and I had dinner with a new couple we hadn’t met before. At one point during the dinner, as I was explaining what I do– that I work at Microsoft to paint a vision of the future of technology. I was asked bluntly if my work was out of step with the world and what the world needed was less technology instead or (gasp) no technology at all.

This has happened before. I’ve spoken a few times at K’s undergraduate philosophy classes and there’s been a reaction each time. “Why can’t we just go into the woods and turn it off?” “There’s too much technology– I wish we could go back in time.” This angst is coming from an age group which, if the numbers are to be believed, is using technology more often than any other. (They’re probably also an age group which is ‘angsty’ more often than any other too, but that’s a new post.)

In fact, these days not a month goes by when I meet someone, explain to them what I do, and have them frown unpleasantly as I said I was a Scientologist, rather than a futurist.

People who say technology should go away because there are some bad experiences out there sound a lot like Hitchens or Dawkins on religion. Religion did something bad, so religion should just go away. Even to an atheist like me this sounds more ridiculous than provocative.

So what do to with this hypocrisy? (And yes, there’s quite a bit about our experiences with technology and information which could be improved. That’s a problem too.) Are these feelings, as a coworker would suggest, the normal, inevitable Luddite backlash you have in any culture at any time in history? (“There’s too much iron, stone tools are more handcrafted.”)

There’s a lot to unpack in the backlash. And I’ll probably need to write more.

But there’s something rumbling around in my brain after a few conversations with August and Edith… we all agreed that we hated the word “content consumption” and I’m trying to figure out why.

via DIS Mag

I found myself thinking of these videos. The idea that given the choice, we prefer to identify with children more than adults. There’s a stunted maturity which, when contrasted with adult concerns (the sexuality in Hafaas videos, for example) is either provocative or wrong…. it’s hard to tell which.

In the back of my mind, I think of technology as aspiring to identify us as children, providing the “simple” interface into the world. In reality, people’s lives are complex– filled with “adult” situations and desires. Relationships between coworkers family and friends may leave one feeling more like the parent than the child. Serving and served. Interactive versus interpassive.

via DannSpann

The concentration of technology on childhood represents a focus on it’s role in our private lives, not in our ability to construct public lives. Sherry Turkle’s call to “put technology in its place” is a little misguided. She suggests that technology works well in our private lives (when I’m alone) but hinders interpersonal relationships. But instead of shrinking from this challenge, technology could be used as a tool to augment social interactions.

As much as I’d like technology for adults, an audience which I think is a bit underserved. I can see that we might build software worlds where you alternatively take turns being the caregiver and the care-receiver. Production and consumption could be given equal weight and each a turn.


One Response

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  1. Ian said, on July 9, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    in my thesis I was interested in creating a site of production and consumption, something that really does not exist today (for a reason?) woven through the vacant shell of an erstwhile shopping mall in the typical exurbs of a depressed manufacturing community.

    Image, projection, and community…

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