Data Privacy and Security

Rant: Tech Utopians v Luddites - They're Both Wrong

Technology provides fertile ground for hyperbole. On the one hand we have the new techno-visionaries, bravely forging ahead towards a digital utopia where everything's wearable, connected and most definitely, thoroughly cloud. On the other hand, and the other side of the fence, are those stick-in-the-muds who believe that the best possible situation is the status quo.

The former tell us we'll all be much better off once our lives are fully quantified, digitised, encoded, uploaded, analysed and shared. The latter tend to rant about the worst aspects of technology and how the technological future – and indeed the present – is considerably less rosy. (Oops, that one was mine).

Perhaps neither perspective is truly helpful, except as a starting point for a more reasoned debate. To find out, let's imagine two people doing just that: starting with extreme, opposing views on technology and trying to debate their way to common ground.

On the 'pro' side we have Evan Gelist, named in honour of all the people whose job descriptions have included that word – mostly at tech companies that no longer exist. And on the 'anti' side we have Ned Ludd, because it's hard to think of a suitable rhyming pun on 'technophobe'. Let the debate begin.

Ned Ludd: "Why are you so fascinated with technology? Most of the people I see using new tech suffer from the 'presence of absence' syndrome: wherever they go they aren't really there. They're glued to their glowing gadgets, can't experience anything without videoing or photographing it, have the attention span of mayflies and only interact with each other through electronics."

Evan Gelist: "No, you're only seeing part of it – the part you want to see. You're ignoring all the benefits. The online world gives you access to far more potential friends, but people still meet each other in the real world. Digital life enhances real life relationships."

NL: "Most surveys suggest the opposite. Your digital nirvana is just marketing puff, a way of selling expensive toys to the naive. The connected future is a nightmare of linked loneliness, sold as a dream."

EG: "But it will be wonderful, in so many ways! Much of our reality is already augmented, and better for it. As technology matures, our health and longevity will improve and we'll become more integrated with the digital world, even controlling our environment with our thoughts. For example, your house could be fully connected to your body's firmware, with intelligent control – just think ‘heating on’ when you leave work and your house will be warm when you get home!"

NL: "Unless it's been hacked, in which case you'll be locked out and have to sleep in the dog kennel, assuming anyone still has real pets."

EG: "But you can't live in the past. All of this is happening now! If you don't keep up you'll be left behind, a disconnected dinosaur."

NL: "Better that than a cyborg."

EG: "You don't have a choice. What are you going to do? Talk to your friends on a rotary-dial analogue telephone? Watch movies on a VCR? Meet new partners in one of the few remaining local pubs that hasn't yet closed? Send business letters via fax? You might as well sleep in a tree and eat raw meat."

NL: "I don't object to change. I object to change for the sake of it, the removal of options on the assumption that everybody wants novelty. It's childish to constantly demand new things simply because they're new: that's a sign of insecurity, a lack of self-awareness, self-control and self-confidence. It's validation through electronics."

EG: "Maybe there's some of that. But a lot of what's happening in the digital world is truly beneficial. Connecting people can empower them, give them information that can help them out of a bad situation, help them improve their lives. Knowledge is power and the digital world spreads knowledge."

NL: "Most of it about cats and naked celebrities."

EG: "Some of it about cats and naked celebrities. That's just the attention-grabbing fluff. There's a significant proportion of the entire sum of human knowledge online now, and it's all available instantly, using a small pocket device. Don't you find that incredibly empowering?"

NL: "Perhaps, but people still want cats and porn."

EG: "Which is not the fault of the technology. If there's a fault, it's a fault of human nature. Some humans' nature. Technology didn't create those desires."

NL: "Well, no, but it dragged them into the daylight."

EG: "You'd prefer censorship?"

NL: "No. Discretion perhaps."

EG: "Not going to happen. The genie's out now, Pandora's box opened. There's no way back."

NL: "I guess not. So... here we are."

EG: "Yes, here we are."

NL: "Fancy a pint?"

EG: "Can't. The pub closed down last week."

Other outcomes to this debate can be imagined, such as Evan zapping Ned with a laser beam from his modified Google Glass headset, but it looks like both starting positions are untenable once challenged. Lesson learned. I resolve to steer clear of such polarised perspectives in future... for a little while.

In the meantime we'd love to hear your examples of technology hyperbole, on either side of the debate. Whether in White Papers or press releases, IPO statements or local newspaper editorials, websites or management meetings, please leave a comment below and share the hype.


Freelance technology journalist Alex Cruickshank grew up in England and emigrated to New Zealand several years ago, where he runs his own writing business, Ministry of Prose.


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Alex Cruickshank

Alex Cruickshank has been writing about technology and business since 1994. He has lived in various far-flung places around the world and is now based in Berlin.  

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