The Goldilocks Problem: Thoughts on Reductive Reasoning and New Tech

In his article, “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us”, Adam Gopnik presents each position—Never-Betters (optimists), Better-Nevers (pessimists), and Ever-Wasers (neutral; humanity’s love-hate relationship with technology has never changed)—as having its strengths and weaknesses: technology can and has been used to enslave just as easily as it has been used to empower; cognitive exasperation runs just as rampant as cognitive expansion; the Internet and Web inhibit meaningful social interaction while it simultaneously acting as a hub of interconnectivity; and, finally, just as historical attitudes towards technologies tend to repeat themselves in a never-ending cycle, contemporary technology’s particular brand of omnipresence is something humanity has never encountered before. Frank Chimero, in his essay “The Good Room”, seems to agree with the latter point wholeheartedly, when he wrote: “technology has transformed from a tool that we use to a place where we live”. This is something I agree with as well.

I went into “The Information” thinking my own opinions regarding technology were so complex it would be impossible to fit them into a one tidy category, and upon finishing all the readings from last week, that position has remained the same—what has changed, however, is my ability to formulate and my thoughts and opinions more clearly. As it turns out, I am a mix of all three positions Gopnik lays out, and I feel that North American society as a whole[1] also fits into this new, complex category: where new technology is as exciting as it is scary, and something we both have and have not encountered throughout history.

When pushed, people tend to have slightly more nuanced opinions of things than they let on. I have observed this both in my personal life, and in my interactions with others. For example: at first glance, I tend to present myself as a Never-Better: I use modern technology for everything, I’m rarely seen without my computer and phone, and I truly enjoy all the benefits of modern tech awards me, and so defend them vehemently. That being said… technology also scares me half to death. The idea that companies harvest my information for commercial use is uncomfortable, I have a fear of getting doxed, and the commercialized Web (with all its negative implications) deeply upsets me. At the same time, I’m aware that most of my immediate resistance to new tech is a resistance to change, which is something humans tend not to enjoy—but I also know that humanity has never had such an intimate relationship with technology as we currently do, which makes me wary to write off any and all emotional and critical responses as part of an ancient cycle of human behaviour.

In short, the way I feel about new technology is a complicated mess. These feelings mirror those of my roommate, my brother, my parents, and I’m willing to bet, just about every other North American who has been exposed to technology within the past decade. The more complex technology becomes, and the more parts of our lives it irrevocably changes—the more it has us living inside the library, instead of visiting at our leisure—the more complicated and complex our relationship with it becomes. Furthermore, fitting such a large part of contemporary life into simplistic black and white areas is reductive and potentially dangerous. If the Stream has taught me anything, it’s that we should be wary of easy answers and neat, boxed-up solutions… they tend to radicalize in a way that makes it easy to suspend critical engagement despite our nuanced thoughts and feelings.

[1] It’s worth thinking about how we are define “society as a whole”: globally? The West? Canada? Vancouver? My experience of technology might be very different than someone who lives in China, or Georgia, so I’m using North America, based on my own experiences.

One Reply to “The Goldilocks Problem: Thoughts on Reductive Reasoning and New Tech”

  1. This is a nicely articulated reflection on the complexity of our views and relationship with tech. I appreciate how you have described the ways in which our current era is simultaneously the same and different from what has come before. As I point out in one of my comments, I do think that this nuanced point of view is not, unfortunately, shared by most. Many of the ways in which tech affects our lives is hidden from plain sight, and many find it difficult to comprehend, and many still do not have the time or energy to afford the luxury of thinking about it. So how do we, as a society (however you decide to define it), make sure we remain wary of the “neat boxed-up solutions”?

Leave a Reply