Technology theater - think piece

hi all,

This piece by Sean McDonald is one of the best I’ve read in a while:

" Whether it’s the national release of contact-tracing apps meant to battle a pandemic, or Sidewalk Labs’ (now defunct) bid to create a “city built from the internet up,” public conversations about major policy initiatives tend to focus on technological components and evade significantly harder questions about power and equity. Our focus on the details of individual technologies — how the app will work, whether the data architecture is centralized, or the relative effectiveness of Bluetooth — and individual experts during the rollout of major policies not only is politically problematic, but also can weaken support for, and adherence to, institutions when their legitimacy is most critical.

There’s a well-documented history of the tendency to hype distracting, potentially problematic technology during disaster response, so it’s concerning, if not surprising, to see governments turning again to new technologies as a policy response to crisis. Expert public debates about the nuances of technologies, for example, provide serious political cover; they are a form of theatre — “technology theatre.” The term builds on security expert Bruce Schneier’s “security theatre,” which refers to security measures that make people feel secure, without doing anything to protect their security. The most prominent examples of security theatre are processes such as pat-downs at sporting events or liquid bans at security checkpoints in airports. Technology theatre, here, refers to the use of technology interventions that make people feel as if a government — and, more often, a specific group of political leaders — is solving a problem, without it doing anything to actually solve that problem."

Highly recommend!


To say “we need a tool for that” and commission a tool is much easier to do and to show off than engaging with the problem and especially making time and budget for people to explore and learn and improve.