Saturday, 11 January 2014

2014: year of the skeptic?


A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the Silicon Valley set having a problem with the homeless. It was a bit angry. It was probably a bit too angry in hindsight. It certainly riled a lot of you up. I also think that I was a bit too pejorative too - of course not all inhabitants of San Francisco that work in technology hate homeless people. 

One point I will refute however is that by not living in San Francisco, that means that I am not best placed to comment. I disagree - you hardly hear people saying the same thing about the situation in Syria, do you? We read things about places that we have never been, compare sources, and then base our opinions and assumptions on the evidence available to us. That’s what living in a big world is all about. We’re all doing our best to understand.

But I’m not going to spend the whole of this post apologizing. I want to make a brief point.

It’s important to be skeptical in technology. With all of the apps, sites and TED Talks we seem to hear about on a daily basis, breathlessly reported by the likes of Techcrunch, Mashable and PandoDaily, as a bright-eyed neophyte it’s very easy to start drinking the cool-aid. I know, because I was one of them.

When I first started getting into social media and technology, I decided to leave behind the music industry, and more importantly, music journalism. By that point, I was sick of all of the negativity - from music critics complaining about the state of the charts (as if it would change), from record labels not taking creative chances.

In short - I was sick of negativity. And when you are sick of negativity, the sunny disposition of the nascent tech bubble inflating in San Francisco and in East London is a great place to escape to. Where solutions exist for every problem. Where death can be cheated, or at the very least indefinitely postponed.

As I said, I was sick of negativity, but one thing I forgot to do when I was picking up my rose-tinted spectacles at the door was to make sure that I wasn’t leaving my questioning mind there.

We need to be skeptical. We need to scrutinise every idea, every concept, every app that launches. And we need to be prepared to say that something is questionable ethically, morally dubious or just plain bad.

At the moment, bar a few bloggers and Valleywag, we don’t seem to have that. And it’s a shame. Because it makes the whole industry look like a whole bunch of loons.

2014 needs to be the year of the skeptic. I want us to question why we feel the need to disrupt things so much. Does death need to be ‘disrupted’? Do we really need another messaging app? What does it bring to the party? Is it worth $4bn?

I’m not asking the world or the economy to stop spinning - we can’t stop it. And I’m not asking people to stop innovating - especially with regards to inventions such as 3D printing, and new platforms that allow people to express themselves in ways they currently feel they cannot in everyday life (blogging’s DNA, so to speak).

I just want people to think a bit more about what they develop. Not just thinking about how they can get in, make a quick buck, then get the fuck out. 

I'm not going full-on Morozov here - I'm just saying that in this day and age, we need people like him more than ever.