Salvaging Criticism: Making Room for Constructive Contributions

The mainstream technology Critic may shout his warning against the folly of progress for the sake of progress. But a critic of technology need not be limited to skepticism and resistance to change, as is the curmudgeon contrarian or the Cassandra. A maturing and constructive technology criticism is more akin to cultural and social criticism, grappling with politics, ethics, history, and culture. This is closer to the kind of criticism needed in a rapidly developing technological society: practical in accepting technology’s place in our lives but critical in interrogating and interpreting its inherent assumptions, values, and influence.

Criticism need not be synonymous with pessimism or opposition, and certainly not with nihilism. The most generous criticism meets technology not with opposition but with an accepting curiosity and inquisitiveness. It is possible for criticism to begin from an optimistic starting point.

There is now space for writers to take what Nathan Heller describes as “a middle road that’s scrutinous, thorough, and fair.”168 That kind of maturation requires a definition of technology criticism that acknowledges a wider range of contributing voices, a broader spectrum of vectors through which technology can be criticized, and a constructive approach that poses possible alternatives and futures. But even if we acknowledge that contributions to the technology discourse are manifold, it is still challenging to identify the constructive contributions in our present critical discourse.

Besides deconstructing, naming, and interpreting technological phenomena, criticism has the potential to assemble new insights and interpretations. In addition to offering a critique of a technology, its implementation, or the system from which it emerges, constructive technology criticism seeks to change the discourse or even the outcomes. It can do so by reframing the issue from a new perspective, or it can go so far as to offer concrete alternatives.

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