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Posts Tagged ‘digitally imposed limitations’

Technology Luddite?

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

In a recent blog post, Tony Kontzer is discussing a San Francisco Chronicle article about Jaron Lanier.  The article discusses Jaron’s concern regarding limitations imposed on people by virtual reality and Web 2.0 structures.  The article mentions that some people have labeled Jaron a “Luddite”.  Tony goes on to say that the term isn’t a bad one and that Luddites serve an important role, balancing the Pollyanna vision of technology’s value against its potential risks.

Although I agree with Tony’s defense of Jaron’s position, I think the “Luddite” term is being misused in Jaron’s case.  In fact, I disagree with an assessment that Jaron’s comments, as well as the well-articulated theme of his book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” equate to those of a technology Luddite.

Let us consider a definition.  Merriam-Webster includes in their definition of Luddite, “one who is opposed to especially technological change.”  However, Jaron’s point is not one that opposes technological change.  Instead, he is concerned that specific uses of technology and underlying limitations within the virtual (digital) world limit our human interaction and experience.  The limiting factors are imposed by computers and software.

Jaron’s thought process, bringing in examples from both his technology and musical backgrounds, does a great job of describing how computer programs constrain us.  Developers have experienced frustration when extending functionality as they try to add features to an existing program.  Separate from the technologists’ issues, and this is key, computer hardware and software limitations also impose boundaries and set expectations for people who interact with computers.

It is this latter aspect, the unintentional or intentional limiting of people’s uniqueness due to the design and implementation of software, that concerns Jaron. I emphatically agree with him on this point!  I believe that most of us would accept that the setting arbitrary boundaries around self-expression and creativity in the physical world can lower the quality of life for people.  If the digital world does likewise might we end up in the same place?