Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Socrates Died for Your Sins

Danah Boyd has an interesting post on the social costs of technology and social policy.

[P]olicy can cause just as many social externalities as technology. Consider the implementation of compulsory high school in the U.S. and Europe. While we can certainly say now that schooling is a good thing (even if we devised schooling for imperial, colonial, and corporate purposes), we often fail to consider the externality of age segregation and what that has meant for so many aspects of civic and social life. We consciously devised a system that would stall growing up and now demonize children for not maturing. What a mess!


I'm concerned that our contemporary business narratives of progress often fail to reflect on the social externalities caused by innovations and organizational shifts. Of course, this is not about techno-determinism or fear mongering. We do that all too well. Propagandized mythical headlines like "Violent games make kids kill" are not what I'm talking about.

I'm more interested in work like Mimi Ito and her colleagues' studies on how youth's lives are reorganized by the mobile phone and how not being easily accessible means being written out of social life. STS scholars and other academics are definitely researching how innovation and structure affect broader social life, but this work often fails to get out in the public.

More problematically, it seems to me that business and the public think that progress is a one-directional path to the future and that we're on that train. Why are we so invested in innovating anything that can be innovated, regardless of the consequences? |innovation's social externalities - apophenia|
Culture evolves often without any consideration of whether this is the type of society we want to have. Even when culture is reviled, it often spreads (sometimes because it is reviled, like early rock n roll.) The entire Stop Snitching social meme is one that police and prosecutors abhor, but cannot stop.

I think the real tragedy of the United States is our anti-intellectualism. We punish geekiness with social exclusion in high school and we refuse to elect policy wonks (that would make too much sense) and instead elect morons. Sarah Vowell writes about this eloquently in her essay on the Nerd Israel, but it's a theme I think all intellectuals in this country comprehend.

I love this country, but it is screwed up and if we keep electing morons, the situation will only get worse.

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