February 08, 2014

That Siren Song

“We want our tools to sing of not just productivity but of our love of curiosity, the joy of wonderment and the freshness of the unknown” — Eric Paulos, “Manifesto of Open Disruption and Participation”, as quoted in “The City As Computer” in the latest IEEE Spectrum.

In the meantime, though, we’ll settle for having our tools sing of products and sales, surveillance and tailored algorithms.

It’s no surprise when techies blindly and enthusiastically hype technologies in the name of freedom and curiosity, when in fact they’re inevitably destined for selling and surveillance — and not just as a side effect, but as the main point. That’s inevitable, and to be expected — but for tech journalists to keep missing the point seems unforgivable. The city as a computer envisaged in that article won’t be an informational playground you can stroll at your leisure, it’ll (absolutely inevitably) be a persistent and adaptive tool to sell you things by (at least) monitoring your movements and reactions. All else (including government surveillance) will be secondary, a by-product of marketing, in the same way that (to a first approximation) broadcast TV exists to sell viewers to marketers rather than to entertain the masses.

Oh brave new world of immersive advertising! Oh brave new world that has such products in’t!

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