Don’t say “technology”

“Technology” is one of those words where your bullshit detectors should perk up whenever you hear it.

It’s so broad but is often used to talk about something really specific (mobile internet, or social media, or W3C standards, or a particular small group of struggling small businesses in southern california, or taxi services, or labor law evasion), so it’s used to apply generalizations to large groups of things that have nothing in common except accidents of history.

I have never heard the word “technology” used in a meaningful way outside of social anthropology.

So, if somebody says something about “technology” that isn’t applicable to hand-axes, ask yourself: what did that person actually intend to talk about, and what unrelated things could easily be confused for it that the statement would be false for?

(For instance, “technology kills social skills” is probably intended to mean social media but not labor law evasion or tax services.)

Very often, when somebody uses a broad word like that unthinkingly, what they’re saying isn’t actually meaningfully true in any possible specific reading! They said it that way because they haven’t actually thought clearly about it.

(For instance, “technology kills social skills” can only be interpreted as true in very limited way: i.e., different means of communication produce different norms of behavior, and behavioral norms irrelevant to someone’s life are forgotten or never learned.)

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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