Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Technophobic memes in the press

One of the recurring themes in this blog has been the popular depiction of technology in the media, particularly in mainstream press. It seems to me that there is a pervasive view of information technology in some sectors of the press, where new technologies are to be met with fear and distrust, and all problems presented by technologies are exposed, inspected, analysed, preached about, and stridently condemned by what I call the shrill technophobic classes.

Examples of this phenomenon are too numerous to mention, but some of my pet peeves are the blame allocated to any web technology for teenage suicides; the belief that games turn kids into violent criminals; the idea that the web is brimming with predators waiting to snatch our children away; and the excessive fear towards the powers of hackers.

Do not get me wrong, some of these fear have some justification. There have been well-documented cases of cyber-predators and groomers operating online; there seems to be a minor correlation between some violent games and aggressiveness; hacker attacks are a worrying threat to e-commerce; and some teenagers use social networking sites. However, I get particularly angry at the exaggeration of these issues in order to push a technophobic agenda that seems to condemn information technologies by distorting the actual threat these issues pose to society. For example, children are more likely to be abused by people they know, so why not direct resources to tackle that? Similarly, if there is some correlation between violent games and aggressiveness, regulators should remember that correlation does not mean causation. It is possible that violent games (and movies, literature, and other forms of entertainment) attract agressive people to begin with.

I also contend that these technophobic tendencies in the media tend to be more present in early adoption stages. The Web went through this stage, until browsing has become a fact of life. New technologies and services are met with similar distrust, Web 2.0 social networks, P2P, and many other internet phenomena have been met in their time with Luddite cries of protest, ony to become mainstream and widely accepted eventually.

I am in Costa Rica and I have been struck by the number and tone of technophobic stories warning worried parents about violent video games and grooming. Some of the depictions of the problems range from the anecdotal to the farcical. Perhaps developing societies such as this are trying to come to grips with the new technologies. It will be interesting to see if these views survive further sophistication.

No comments: