Between Wariness and Adoration
To build the right tools, first we need the right words.
There are two tribes in the wilds of digital technology. The first harbors an attitude of adoration, spellbound by the mysteries of their own mighty Mirror of Erised and so incapable of looking away. The other stalks through the dark digital forest in fear and wariness, an attitude often adopted only after living and suffering as an Adorder.
The Wary look at the Adorers as one might look at religious fanatics or cult members as all too sanguine in the face of a clear danger. “Your screens have stolen the world away from you.”
The Wary wield their innumerable critiques all pointing toward the same feeling. “We’re being taken in by technology; our humanity is slipping away in the process. Our technologies are not serving us. There needs to be some reining in or else this beast will ride away, dragging us behind, unconscious and battered.”
The Wary are articulating a feeling that something is spiritually unsettled in the technologies that have taken root over the last two decades.
But the truth remains that even the Wary use their devices. And the Adorers live only half as badly as the Wary suspect.
What is missing is a clear, positive descriptor for what is desirable. Like a toddler in his terrible twos who knows how to say “No” but not how to name what he wants, the Wary too often merely cross their arms and stick their noses up. But they inevitably eat the mash that mother Big Tech spoons them, leaving nobody better off.
The Wary need to strengthen their lexicon. Not only because having names for objects changes how one sees the world, but so that the process of living with better technology isn’t determined through the Wary’s choice-by-negation. And “appropriate technology” stands as a decent candidate. Initially coined by the German economist Ernst F. Schumacher, the term was used in the context of international development to contrast technology that served to profit a minority at the expense of the populace it was being used within.
Standing for a philosophy of “enoughness,” the idea of appropriate technology can easily be applied to the domain of digital technologies. The essential quality that can be applied to technology in general is that the value of any technology must be weighed in the social, cultural, and political milieu in which it is operating. And many open source projects have adopted the ethos, but the sentiment should be applied to more than merely not-for-profit uses. Inappropriateness ought to be a phrase weighed against the injurious features of platforms that are antithetical to our goals of being a more humane, ever-human society.