An old story: social critics decry new technologies

In something of a convergence, anti-tech themes have become common both among the cultural critics of the social justice Left and the populist moralists of the Right. [Corbin Barthold, Truth on the Market]

As for the stuff the industry does make, [Republican Missouri Senator Josh] Hawley wants it changed. He has introduced a bill to ban infinite scrolling, music and video autoplay, and the use of “badges and other awards” (gamification) on social media. The bill also requires defaults that limit a user’s time on a platform to 30 minutes a day. A user could opt out of this restriction, but only for a month at a stretch.

The available evidence does not bear out the notion that highbrow magazines, let alone Josh Hawley, should redesign tech products and police how people use their time. You’d probably have to pay someone around $500 to stay off Facebook for a year. Getting her to forego using Amazon would cost even more. And Google is worth more still—perhaps thousands of dollars per user per year. These figures are of course quite rough, but that just proves the point: the consumer surplus created by the internet is inestimable.

It’s priggish, but enduringly popular, to see one’s fellow humans as being merely entrapped by the temptation to use new technology in frivolous or destructive ways, incapable of turning them to solid benefit. “When a lantern inventor obtained a patent to light London, observed Macaulay, ‘the cause of darkness was not left undefended.'”

One Comment

  • If you listen to podcasts, I would suggest ‘Pessimist Archive’. It’s an occasion podcast where the narrator talks about society’s reaction to new inventions.j

    Very entertaining.

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