Shared Features of the Wider Circle of Critics

The greatest commonality among this diverse cohort of critics is not that they are technically adept, but that they grew up on the internet. For instance, Heffernan recalls accessing Usenet from her university town connection. Max Read remembers his time in AOL chat rooms. danah boyd recalls her early experiments blogging and working in public, as well as managing her Ani Difranco lyrics fan page. These critics live closely with technology and want to better understand it.

Many of the critics I identify here share an interdisciplinary curiosity. Nicholas Carr is a prime example, pulling from economics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, design theory, the history of technology, and even poetry to build his case in his most recent book, The Glass Cage. Virginia Heffernan does something similar in Magic and Loss. Like many journalists, these critics tend to come from liberal arts backgrounds, and many noted in interviews that they had considered an academic career. Heffernan describes how her English Ph.D. informed her approach to the subject: “I invented—or jerry rigged, or something—a methodology that made it possible for me to deal with disparate subjects. Like, use the same tools and methodologies and viewpoints and assumptions and impulses to criticize [as I would to] talk about Keats. [I started off my dissertation wanting to use those] to talk about market dynamics and increasingly want[ed] to talk about technology, hardware, and software.”120

In this interdisciplinary sense, critics play an important role in bridging audiences and translating ideas. Tom Standage describes this work: “Someone like me who hasn’t studied [the history of science, or science and technology studies] academically is interested in it and has read enough about it to be aware of the academic discourse around it . . . One of the useful things journalists can do here is be that bridge between different communities, between the technology community and the sort of study of technology.”121

Farrell also describes this type of writer: “I think of it as a subset of cultural criticism . . . A lot of critics are organic intellectuals without academic training but often able to bridge the worlds of academic and public debate better than scholars can.”122 Madrigal’s background in the history of science comes through in pieces where he surfaces scholars whose work can be meaningfully applied to address new technologies and practices. But in the case of Morozov’s Cybernetics piece in The New Yorker, it can result in what appears to be wholesale “idea theft”123 if not adequately attributed to its scholarly source (in this example, computer historian Eden Medina).

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