Techno-determinism is an attitude I see in many people within tech. It manifests itself as the total refusal to accept any criticism of technology and its effects. In particular, it objects to any attempt to offer a critical view of society as shaped by our current technology.
It’s a weird phenomenon, as it contradicts one of the most fundamental belief of its own practitioners: human agency. Somehow, the same people who believe so deeply in the power of individuals to shape technology have no belief in the power of the same individuals to stir how technology shapes us.
Its weapons are derision, mockery, and hand-picked anecdotes. If you say that we are glued to our screens, they will call you luddite and show an image of people reading the newspaper. If you think that automation could take away jobs, they will post a quote from similar (turned out to be unfunded) fears a century ago. If you believe that social media reinforce a culture of tribalism and opposition they will claim people want to live in bubbles.
Techno determinists are just as bad as the nostalgics they mock. In their blindness to the side effects of the technology they fund and build, they provide an easy target to their attackers. That’s not what the world needs.
The technology sector has long ago graduated from its inferiority complex. It is now time to go beyond “revenge time” and assume instead the sense of responsibility that its power require.
I am sure there are plenty of examples of people that at least try to pose themselves the right questions. I would just like to name 3 who deserve special praise for their ability to reconcile critical sense (awareness) and optimism.
- Tim O’Reilly and his Next:Economy initiative
- Albert Wenger for his thoughtful analysis of post-capitalist world
- Tristan Harris and his “time well spent” movement
Even more than their opinions, I share their attitude. We need more of that.