The Tech Curmudgeon – "Technology" means more than gadgets, people

The Tech Curmudgeon looked up the word “technology” in his dead tree American Heritage Dictionary, and just in case he was dating himself, he looked up the word in an online dictionary too. Both dictionaries generally agree with each other that the word “technology” means the application of science or knowledge to achieve a practical objective. That’s a pretty broad definition that takes in anything from stereo systems to car engines to air- and spacecraft to oil extraction equipment. So the Tech Curmudgeon wants to know when was it that “technology” came to mean just personal gadgets, social media, and smartphone apps?

Don’t believe the Tech Curmudgeon? Read the Technology page of Google News, or the NYTimes Technology coverage, or NPR’s All Tech Considered, CNN’s Tech page, or nearly every other major news platform’s technology coverage. It’s all web, smartphones, personal (read “tiny, hard to use, easy to lose, and screechy with no base register”) audio, apps, social media, console games, and, more recently, Jobsophilia.

The Tech Curmudgeon admits that this stuff is appropriately considered tech, but it’s a small fraction of the real world of technology, a real world that’s not being reported on. China is developing the technology to independently put an astronaut on the Moon, but that’s “Science.” Buildings survived the massive earthquake in Japan because the technology used in constructing them stood up to the shaking, but it’s almost never reported (thanks to Discover Magazine’s 100 top science stories of 2011 for this one). Small nuclear reactors are being developed that are essentially immune to proliferation issues, can’t melt down, and could be mass-produced cheaply and safely. Electric cars. Satellites. Self-repairing electronics. Self-repairing concrete. Recyclable plastics made from cellulose instead of petroleum. Rudimentary nerve grafts for prosthetic limbs. It’s all technology, people, and it’s all been shoved out of the “Technology” section by Facebook’s privacy issues, Angry Birds, a phone patent war between Samsung and Apple, and Netflix’s latest boneheaded pricing idea.

Why, the Tech Curmudgeon’s Tech page on Google News just now had 20 stories, of which three were car related and one was about alleged sexual harassment by HP’s former CEO (and that’s technology how, exactly? Try the Business, National, or Local sections, Google). All the others were about phones or phone companies, tablets, phone operating systems, social media, or computer hacking. 80% gadgets, games, and geeks. Talk about lame. And when a technology nerd calls it lame, that’s saying something.

This daily obsessing over stupid smartphone and social network bullshit isn’t doing anyone any good – we’re missing all the really important stuff that’s happening with technology because we’re being distracted by a deluge of asinine.

Bring back the oldtime technology coverage already.

2 replies »

  1. Technology also properly includes things like education and the domestication of animals. I can’t believe you’re writing this post. I mean, I’m the guy who did the dissertation in this area.

    In any case, you really want to read Arnold Pacey’s CULTURE OF TECHNOLOGY, which addresses your point rather specifically. I talk about it in my diss here – start on p143.

    In essence, he argues that tech has three dimensions. The technical dimension is the actual machine, and this is the limited or “restricted” understanding of the term. However, there’s also the cultural and organizational dimensions. The organizational concerns the laws and regulations and corporate structures that attend tech. Things like FCC regs, for instance, and any federal policy. The cultural addresses how tech is used (and often used differently in different places – his snowmobile example is really illustrative).

    Great topic, and one that obviously fascinates the hell out of me.

  2. Hear, hear. Re: “alleged sexual harassment by HP’s former CEO (and that’s technology how, exactly?” I’m reminded of when Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear and one wit suggested putting that story in the sports section was like featuring Jeffrey Dahmer in the food section.