The technologist-as-trickster is a fixture of our age. Pacing the stage at a tech conference, unencumbered by notes or even the reliance on a podium, with multiple huge video screens hanging above showing the trickster in full stride (reminding the historically minded of the painted banners of Stalin and Mao), the technologist preaches to a rapt audience about the gospel of the inevitable domination of digital tools over all. “Preaching” is a good word for this, as the talk returns repeatedly to matters of meaning, of doing something useful with one’s life. This talk is not about technology, it is not about how things work — this is a presentation about the inner life of the audience. It is all about how they feel, how they can align their inner state with the technological torrent that is sweeping over them. “Do not be afraid,” he says (the technology trickster is almost always male). “Put away your fears. Embrace the empowerment of new technology.” Don’t try to assert control; go with the Force.
No industry is without its tricksters, but the media businesses and publishing in particular have seen more than their share. This is because of the inherent nature of information, which can be reduced to ones and zeroes and easily transmitted over the Internet. A company that sells snowshoes or refrigerators, on the other hand, will always have to emerge from the virtual world at some point, place a box on a truck, and ship it to your home. One might reasonably ask what fear has to do with any of this. Well, there is fear of change, of course, but the real issue here is the psychologizing of what is essentially a business issue. Unemotional business types will note that passion may get things started, but detachment is the real builder. Fear is invoked to pitch an opportunity that is vague in design and uncertain in outcome.
Read full post here. (Originally posted March 4, 2013)