Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Brendan Markey-Towler, Industry Research Fellow, The University of Queensland
Doomsaying about new technology helps make it better

That new technologies could actually be bad for us, by sapping our attention or ruining our memories, is an argument that goes back to Socrates. It’s tempting to summarily dismiss these concerns, but such tech-doomsaying is actually an important part of economic discovery.

Our societies are organised by rules, embedded in our collective knowledge, about the proper way to behave and interact with each other. These rules are worked out over a long, often bitter process of debate and competition between rival ideas about society].

Some of the most important rules we need to discover are about how to use technology and, just as importantly, how not to use it.

Read more: Is social media turning people into narcissists?

One recent example of tech-doomsaying is a viral video featuring Denzel Washington, Simon Sinek, Joe Rogan and others discussing social media and smartphones. We spend no time with real people any more, the video goes, as we desperately seek the next “like” and “comment”.

This video joins a long and proud history stretching back through Neil Postman (who wrote the brilliant Amusing Ourselves to Death), Alvin and Heidi Toffler (of Future Shock fame) to John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society.

It also joins a veritable cacophony warning about the perils of everything from artificial intelligence to blockchains and cryptocurrencies.

Institutional economics helps us understand, counter-intuitively, why this doomsaying actually helps make new technologies better.

Working out the rules

The great institutional economist Clarence Ayres wrote about how technology becomes incorporated into our lives in a way that is roughly equivalent to the way tribal societies use totems to interact with each other.

In tribal societies, a whole system of rules is developed and kept by the “shamans” about what totems mean and how they are to be used in everyday life.

Similarly, a whole system of rules needs to be developed by tech gurus experimenting with new technologies and teaching people about how, when and why to use them in everyday life.

Read more: Putting a price on friendship: why social media sites leave the Luddites behind

New technologies don’t simply get incorporated immediately into everyday life, as traditional economic models assume. They don’t come with an instruction manual outlining what they can be used for, nor a set of regulations about how they are to be used.

We have to learn and develop rules ourselves about how, when and why to use new technologies. This requires that we talk to each other and share our experiences and thoughts.

As we talk to each other and share ideas about new technology, a competition between ideas develops. From this we discover, as a society, new knowledge about how, when and why we should use new technologies in our everyday lives.

Hype and doomsaying help us discover

My colleague Jason Potts has written about one side of this process, whereby “hype” about a new technology helps us to discover what it can and should be used for.

But there is another, easily forgotten side of this process whereby doomsaying about a new technology moderates our enthusiasm and promotes caution. We need to discover what a new technology cannot do and what it should not be used for.

Every inventor is both a Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, and a Pandora unwittingly releasing a swarm of potential evils on the world. The competition of ideas between hype and doomsaying allows us to discover helpful rules which deal with both.

Nuclear technology provides an excellent example of this. Many arguments have been made about its astonishing potential as an efficient energy source, as a mining technology and as a source of propulsion, among other things. But we all know about its dangers too – Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, and the areas of the Earth that will be radioactive for tens of thousands of years as a result of nuclear fallout.

Over time, despite often bitter disputes, we have discovered a substantial body of knowledge about how, when and why we should nuclear technology.

Read more: Fukushima seven years later: case closed?

The debate about social media and smartphones is much the same. There are a range of arguments about the spectacular potential for this technology to give ordinary people a technology to communicate on a scale previously reserved for only the very powerful and very rich.

But there are also counterarguments about its addictiveness, its effect on our attention span, and its enabling of the very powerful and very rich to manipulate us.

Over time, despite what will often be a fierce dispute between these competing ideas, we can expect to discover a substantial body of knowledge about how best to use social media.

So, institutional economics shows us that tech-doomsayers help make technology better. Technology doesn’t come with a ready-made rulebook for how to use it. We have to discover this in a process of trial, error and argument. And for this the doomsayer is just as vital as the visionary.

Authors: Brendan Markey-Towler, Industry Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/doomsaying-about-new-technology-helps-make-it-better-98623

Writers Wanted

COVID has left Australia's biomedical research sector gasping for air

arrow_forward

How Australian vice-chancellors' pay came to average $1 million and why it's a problem

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

Nisbets’ Collab with The Lobby is Showing the Sexy Side of Hospitality Supply

Hospitality supply services might not immediately make you think ‘sexy’. But when a barkeep in a moodily lit bar holds up the perfectly formed juniper gin balloon or catches the light in the edg...

The Atticism - avatar The Atticism

Buy Instagram Followers And Likes Now

Do you like to buy followers on Instagram? Just give a simple Google search on the internet, and there will be an abounding of seeking outcomes full of businesses offering such services. But, th...

News Co - avatar News Co

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion