The New York Times had an article that cogently said something I’ve had vague ideas about for a long time: Taking a Tire Iron to Techie Triumphalism. We keep getting told, mostly by computer and tech industry leaders, but also by politicians who believe them, that technology will solve everything and we’re in a new world now. This article is a review of a book with a differing view, Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology, written by Kentaro Toyama, who was in the thick of tech companies for long enough to see that it ain’t necessarily so.
Mr. Toyama used to share that worldview: “I am a recovering technoholic,” he writes. Then he moved to India, to lead the Microsoft lab, and observed a phenomenon that he would come to believe was universal: “Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces.” When computers entered rural schools, for instance, guess who held the mouse? Upper-caste boys. Technology wasn’t an intrinsic leveler or a bulldozer to archaic structures: It just gave people new, improved tools to be lovely or horrible to each other in all the old ways.
Several people I know, and probably many more, have said that the thing about the rise of “technology” is that it doesn’t change the fact that there are Haves and Have-nots, it just rearranges who gets to be a Have. But it may also be true that the people who are Haves in the traditional ways can glom onto technology more quickly than others to continue their power and wealth. THAT isn’t what we were sold when this personal computer/tech thing got started some twenty-five years ago.
This is a book I may have to make time to read.