Demanding Better From Tech
Depending on who you ask, I was either a starry-eyed idealist, willing to give the clayfooted giants of technology a pass on their worst excesses, or I was a naysaying sourpuss, forever letting the perfect be the enemy of the good when it came to the minor bugs in the otherwise wonderful technological future we were living in.
This is a false binary: you don’t have to be “protech” or “anti-tech.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how someone could realistically be said to be “anti-tech” – your future is going to have more technology in it, so the question isn’t, “Should we use technology?” but rather, “Which technology should we use?”
That’s the discussion I’ve been waiting for us all to have for decades now: which tech should we use? And science fiction has a signature move that will help us to make this a productive discourse: the ability to separate a technology from its social and economic context.
That’s a job science fiction writers need to do, because it’s one that technologists generally refuse to undertake. To hear Facebook tell it, staying in touch with your friends is impossible, unless you give in to continuous, covert surveillance of everything you do online. Ask Apple and they’ll tell you that having a functional phone is inseparable from allowing a distant, multibillion-dollar corporation decide who can repair it and whose software you’re allowed to use. Ask Google and they’ll tell you that providing a critical search-interface to the web can’t be done without (again) spying on everything you do.
The problem with the anti-tech/pro-tech false dichotomy is that it insists that the anti-tech side argue that you don’t like talking with your friends, or using your phone, or searching the web (or at least, that you could live without these things). It leaves the pro-tech side arguing that the harms from not being able to audit your mobile devices, or maintain your privacy, are ultimately unimportant enough that they’re a reasonable price to pay.
But the science fiction writer gets to ask contrafactuals: how can we maintain our social lives or search the web without spying? What kinds of devices would let us communicate on the go without taking away our rights?
…go read the rest of Cory Doctorow: Let’s Get Better at Demanding Better from Tech…