Archive for the ‘Geek Heresy’ Category

A Technologist in Peopleland

March 24, 2015

Out of the mouth of graduate students come the most difficult questions. The Jester was recently asked not once, but several times, “So, what are you going to work on?” What these folks were asking was, “If you don’t think technology offers direct solutions to social problems, but you’re a computer scientist at a School of Information… what are you going to work on?”

That is a question the Jester has wrestled with, and… he’s still wrestling! No victor has yet emerged.

Evgeny Morozov, a jester’s jester and author of To Save the World, Click Here, points out the problem in a recent ruminative essay. In it, he suggests that mainstream technology criticism – including his own – is losing steam. He argues that tech critics “either stick with the empirical project of documenting various sides of American decay” or, they “show how the rosy rhetoric of Silicon Valley does not match up with reality.” Either way, though, what we’re missing is a compelling vision of their own.

Touché and ouch! But, that is really the problem.

For the Jester, the heart of the challenge is this: The Jester grew up in Technologyland, was educated in Technologyland, and is employed by the court of Technologyland. So, what everyone expects of him is Technologyland expertise (if not propaganda). But, the very application of that expertise leads to a Peopleland conclusion: that while technology can amplify human intent and capacity, the critical bits – intent and capacity – are manufactured in Peopleland.

There are various responses a citizen of Technologyland can make to the Peopleland conclusion, the most obvious being for Technologists to collaborate with the right People so as to amplify their impact. But, a less forgiving read of the amplification theory would suggest that in a world already so abundant in Technologyland products (a world which, incidentally, also happily pays for them), why not move to Peopleland and put all of one’s efforts there?

The Jester would love to do this, but one challenge is that without Peopleland citizenship, at best the Jester can visit for a while before his visa expires. It’s possible for Technologists to collaborate with People, but understandably, people in Peopleland don’t care what a Technologist says about their problems any more than Americans care what Russians say about U.S. problems.

So, what to do? For now, the Jester’s solution is to apply for long-term residency in Peopleland. In order to make it through the system, he is collaborating with People, learning more about Peopleland, and engaging in Peopleland projects. (He’s also channeled his alter ego to write about what this means exactly in Part 2 of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology, available here on Amazon, here on Barnes & Noble, and starting May 26, not quite here where you can look up your favorite local bookstore; full disclosure: the Jester shares neurons with the author.) He’s also trying the tactic of starting Peopleland projects within Technologyland itself. Fortunately, this is relatively easy to do in the interdisciplinary milieu the Jester prefers – but who knows how long before the Technologyland natives grow suspicious?!

The Jester is back… sort of!

December 16, 2014

One problem with having a non-comic-book alter ego is that one doesn’t also have superpowers to genuinely multitask. (Genuine multitasking is when one does N things at once and each gets done as quickly and as well as if one were fully focused on just it. This is unlike pretend multitaking where one thinks one is doing N things at once, but none of them well.) That is to say, the Jester can explain his long absence by noting that for over a year, his schizophrenic other has been feverishly working to finish a book. The Jester is happy to report that the manuscript has been submitted, and the Jester has gotten the use of his brain back!

Alas, it takes some time for the neural cobwebs to clear, so in lieu of a proper post, the Jester will serve his doppelganger’s marketing manager’s bidding and proceed with several shameless plugs.

To begin, Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology will be released May 26, 2015 in the United States. (The title is one the Jester wishes he had come up with himself — thanks go to fellow jester Tom Paulson at Humanosphere.) Unfortunate souls in other countries will have to ask US-based friends to ship them their copies. It’s possible to pre-order copies of the book through the monopolistic, tech-enabled, couch-potato-breeding, mom-and-pop-shop-killing Amazon, but the Jester strongly urges potential readers to pre-order the book at their friendly local bookstore, where not only will readers be greeted with the warm smile of bibliophilic staff, there is a greater opportunity to contribute to the count of various book-sales-tallying services. Non-Americans are encouraged to make a trip to the United States specifically to purchase the book at one of the country’s fine retail establishments. Yes, it is that good!

The Jester’s virtual twin has also recently just published a book review of Bill Easterly’s recent tome, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. The review is available free at the open-access journal, Information Technologies and International Development. (Full disclosure: The Jester shares gray matter with co-editor-in-chief of the journal. As the Jester warned, this post is just one long shameless plug!)

Finally, just this morning, the Jester’s spirit was channeled at the Atlantic online, where an article picks up where the Jester last left off… It not only takes on, but also Time Magazine journalist Lev Grossman, for going too easy on Zuckerberg. Here are some teasers: “Much of the public sphere on both the political left and right [is] unable to resist the grand ambitions of Silicon Valley late capitalists,” and “Freedom is the basis by which corporations seduce unsuspecting consumers so long as it isn’t causing them biological harm.” The Jester would have written those words if he had had his wits about him!