Technology: A complicated relationship

Planning the technology section for a publication that is largely opinion-based is tricky, as there is unrelenting demand for basic coverage of new gadgets, phones, app referrals, etc. There are countless sites dedicated to quippy, tech-related announcements, rumours and reviews and, now, the Spectator Tribune will attempt to be among them, but with this caveat, or wink: The line between new is better and new is needed is blurry, at best.

Many of us rational folks are highly critical of everything claiming to improve our lives, and rightly so, but, it seems, technological devices somehow avoid our scrutiny.  Companies like Apple can repackage devices that were once great, useful and attractive and sell it to a mass of people, who, in any other situation, say, the coffee shop, would ooze judgment and scorn.

The people so covetous and complacent towards the purchase of new technologies (phones, TVs, computers, etc.,) are also, it seems, among those wanting to be regarded as discerning and creative.

The brilliant and under-recognized Ursula Franklin wrote in her Massey Lecture, The Real World of Technology, that “Many technological systems, when examined for context and overall design, are basically anti-people. People are seen as sources of problems while technology is seen as a source of solutions.”

Her arguments are much too complex to distill in this article, but she does warn that the passive acceptance of technology is an affront to a person’s freedom, a flag she raised long before an entire world was able to unanimously abandon reason for a screen that is half an inch bigger, a quarter inch thinner, that runs apps that largely create the needs they satisfy. I really enjoy the iPhone and the wonderful gadgets that have appeared as a result of the market competition it created, but a retina display wasn’t in my vernacular until an advertisement put it there.

Really, Franklin just wants you to think about the relationship you have with the shiny thing you’re reading this article on.

This specific insight is obvious and doesn’t really need further unpacking, except I would recommend Franklin’s book. And before you polarize with the I-don’t-own-a-TV or the Apple-can-do-no-wrong crowd, take a moment to respect what is undoubtedly genuine wisdom from this great thinker.

The Spectator Tribune needs technology. And it loves technology. My day is 100 per cent immersion in screens, beeps, rings, etc.: I have a TV screen on my office wall, telling me exactly how many of you are reading any given article, a computer for email and another computer for building the stories sent my way.  And, out of office, the apps on my phone give me the same statistical readouts and email access. It all becomes solipsistic quickly.

The Spectator Tribune will attempt to be thoughtful of the gadgets it talks about, the apps it covers and the phones it reviews. But forgive us for the odd “here’s what’s new and cool” piece.



Toban Dyck is a writer/editor/farmer. Follow him @tobandyck.

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