The problems with easy technology

Published in tech industry, on Mar 23, 2021

Article in the New Yorker by Tim Wu on demanding technologies versus convenience technologies. It's well complimented by his other article As Technology Gets Better Will Society Get Worse? that discusses the transformation of the Oji-Cree society from lives of hardship and happiness to lives of ease and despair.

Just what is a demanding technology? Three elements are defining: it is technology that takes time to master, whose usage is highly occupying, and whose operation includes some real risk of failure. By this measure, a piano is a demanding technology, as is a frying pan, a programming language, or a paintbrush. So-called convenience technologies, in contrast—like instant mashed potatoes or automatic transmissions—usually require little concentrated effort and yield predictable results.

Convenience technologies promised more space in our lives for other things, like thought, reflection, and leisure. That, at least, is the idea. But, even on its own terms, convenience technology has failed us.