Why do we so often need to push back against ‘techie triumphalism’?

Here is Kentaro, on his usual beat:

Talented chefs don’t believe their sauteeing skills entitle them to reimagine Web browsers, but talented technologists feel entitled to reimagine cooking, education and everything else.

And on a more serious note:

It’s a world full of trained engineers — and many college dropouts — who cannot be expected to grasp human dynamics any more than political scientists understand Java code. Many brilliant technology leaders have stories of bullying and isolation in their youths that would leave anyone with abiding skepticism of human groups, institutions, cultures. If family dinners and school lunches were painful for you, “disrupting” eating with a venture-capital-backed protein drink like Soylent can seem like liberation


Indeed, technology has become a kinder, gentler variant of so-called trickle-down economics, in which one gives poor schoolchildren iPads and a pat on the back, without altering the toxicity of their work-starved, father-starved, drug-war-ravaged environment

Needless to say, I agree with the larger point. While it may be unfair to call out the unhappy childhood of some prominent tech leaders, it does partly explain why their ‘abiding skepticism’ of human behaviour leads them to place their trust on machines, rather than humans.

I think there is more, though. I think a lot of tech innovators fail to understand why they need to take into account the human element. For one, in their minds, there is no reason why someone – whatever their circumstances – wouldn’t be interested in adopting a piece of technology that is within their reach. Next, they cannot possibly imagine why anyone would have an issue with someone else having access to new technologies – power relations and politics don’t quite make a blip on their mental radars. Also, there is the abiding faith in the power of the little piece of technology itself, which is then falsely voiced, for example, as an argument favouring the inherent ability of every child to learn, if only they had access to a laptop/tablet/etc. Technology could be idiot-proof, but is far less likely to be context-proof.

Yes, so we need to push back against ‘techie triumphalism’. You know which other tribe comes to mind? Economists, of course. Almost all of the above arguments apply when economists try to be experts in health/psychology/conflict resolution/you-name-it!


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