Placing people into categories has long been a device to position ourselves with and simultaneously against others. From race to gender, we often think of characteristics (socially constructed or otherwise) as confined to neat little self-contained boxes as opposed to existing fluidly on a spectrum. In his 2011 New Yorker article “The Information”, Adam Gopnik continues this tradition by describing three frames that we can use to understand humans relationships to technologies. Gopnik’s categories, which in my view are problematically reductionist, break down people into belonging to the “never-better”, the “better-nevers”, and the “ever-wasers”. In other words
1) those who believe in an upward progress where life is perpetually being improved upon because advances in technology
2) the nostalgic or neo-Luddite type who see changes in technology as de-evolution
3) and the more ambivalent group that that see the modern age as defined by changing technology that will please some and displease others.
Although Gopnik has you believe these groups are distinct and mutually exclusive, it would be hard to argue that any one person or society’s relationship to technology could neatly be reduced and packeded up into such opposing ideologies. Instead, I propose that we all contain these attitudes simultaneously—holding different attitudes about different technologies, or even holding different attitudes about the same technology. As someone who grew up in an age before the internet was widespread, I both hold the belief that the internet has improved my life drastically, while simultaneously longing for the days before it was co-opted as a tool for capitalist gains through advertising and other forms of commodification.
Socially we are not nearly as dogmatic or reducionary as these frames provided. Opinions on technologies are deeply situation to time, place, capital, powder, and how specific technologies are used—including by and for whom.
Furthermore, our attitudes about technologies cannot be understood apart from the specific social context and unequal distribution of capital and power from which they originate. There is a tendency to ascribe an innate teleology to technological development, and to ignore the social processes through which advancements in technology are made. This might explain why Gopnik divides people into the categories of “never-betters” and “better-nevers”, with the only third option being pure ambivalence. I would suggest that in opposition to all of these categories, there are those of us who believe that technology is a tool that can be used towards better or worse ends. In order to do this, however we need to ditch the laisse-faire attitude towards technological development, and realize that we do not only interpret advancements in technology, but we create, shape, and determine the direction they take. The three categories proposed position society as passive interpreters to technological advances where instead we should position ourselves as an active part in their creation. Since these category don’t work, perhaps we should fall into the “collectively-taking-control-of-our-destinyers”. Maybe we should view technology as Marx viewed philosophy in his eleventh Theses on Feurback—“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”(Marx, 1845).