The dark side of frictionless technology

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the joys of gentle technology. Specifically, the satisfaction I found trying to learn a new physical skill (playing the guitar for me). Many people have written their stories. A few also shared their reading recommendations. Last week he read one of those books while on vacation for a week. Matthew B. Crawford’s bestseller of 2009. Shop Class as SoulcraftCrawford, a think-tank dropout, PhD, turned motorcycle mechanic, is an impassioned advocate for the value and dignity of manual labor, and details what I call slow-progress technology.

Crawford makes a compelling argument for the misconceptions about how people unleash their creativity. He argued that the popular view of creativity (what he calls “kindergarten ideas”) can only occur when we are sufficiently free from conventional constraints that our Creativity is a special power within us that we can unlock. I think it’s a by-product of mastery. he continues:

[Creativity] It seems to be built by submission (think musicians practicing scales, or Einstein learning tensor algebra). Equating creativity with freedom fits very well with the new capitalist culture. In the new capitalism, flexibility is essential and we cannot commit ourselves to work long enough to develop our true capabilities. Such capacity is a condition not only for true creativity, but also for financial independence, such as that enjoyed by merchants.

I am very drawn to this idea of ​​creativity by submission. It perfectly describes the experience of learning and struggling to improvise on the guitar. To speak fluently on the guitar, you must submit to a rote exercise of training your fingers to find each note in a particular scale and its various positions. But even after sticking to muscle memorization, you still have to contend with the reality of songs and their chord progressions. Real, authentic musical expression is only possible if you have a natural familiarity with the mathematics and geometry of your instrument, and use its rules as a roadmap to get you where you want to be. Crawford further claims that:

His argument is part of a larger debate about most technology, and he (who has been writing since 2009) laments that technology has become extremely convenient. He is frustrated that analog automotive components and parts have been replaced or obscured by digital parts and interfaces. The result is more intuitive for the operator, but much more complicated and expensive to repair. Crawford also argues that, even worse, we’re missing something essential as a result of this intuitive technology.

Minimize mental friction between user intent and its realization. It is such resistance that makes reality perceived as independent. If all goes well, user reliance (reliance on programmers trying to anticipate every user need when building an interface) remains well below the user’s attention threshold, and the user’s Nothing prevents the self-sufficiency of

Crawford goes a little crazy here. He says that the frictionless experience with technology means we are less aware of the tools we use and what they actually do. He thinks it will help. We don’t think of ourselves as interacting with tools or the physical world. Instead, we see ourselves as masters of our environment, expecting that all tools and services should serve our needs perfectly. When broken, it cannot be repaired because it is unknown.

It’s a paradox. Modern tools give us independence. You don’t have to worry about some things that used to worry you. But they also increase your dependence on the people doing the building and repairs.

The idea that technology is sometimes infantilized is not new. But I’m interested in Crawford’s idea that overly intuitive tools can foster a distorted relationship with the world, and how we see ourselves in it. At some point in the writings of fixer, a term he applies (for example) to the roles of doctor, nurse, and mechanic. That means you have to master your subject in order to diagnose or fix problems. But such work is always prone to failure, or at least no guarantee of success. The car is a total loss or beyond repair. The patient becomes terminally ill and dies. However, Crawford argues that: Physicians and mechanics interact with the world on a daily basis as independent entities and are acutely aware of the difference between self and non-self. “Fixing things up can be a cure for narcissism,” he adds.

Maybe this sounds like Grandpa swinging his fist into the clouds. Because things were a mess and back in the day kids had manners and everyone knew how to fix a carburetor. That’s fair! But I love a world where much of the information and entertainment I desire is available on demand. I have always been drawn to technology that simplifies once complex and cumbersome processes, thereby increasing the accessibility of information and opportunities. From Google Search to turn-by-turn directions in navigation apps, from smartphones to iPods, there are thousands of examples to point to.

But I also understand how these technologies have changed my expectations and those of those around me. We expect a lot from our devices, but we also believe that they are becoming more and more disposable. It’s easy to get frustrated when technology fails, like when your Wi-Fi goes dead or your Bluetooth connection drops.

It’s embarrassing to act like a big baby sometimes when your gear doesn’t work. On a recent trip to a new city, my phone was unable to pinpoint my GPS location. Before I arrived, I was able to take some time to learn about my new surroundings and, in general, be a little more involved in the physical world around me. I had it, so I didn’t. At worst, our tools nurture our relationships with the world around us, in which we are the protagonists, from people to things to geography.

The opposite of this more narcissistic, expectant mentality is attentiveness, which Crawford argues is found in the art of maintenance. To diagnose and fix things, he wrote, “you need a certain propensity for what you’re trying to fix.” he continues:

This temperament is both cognitive and moral. To do it right, you need to pay attention in a conversational way, not in a demonstrative way. I believe that mechanical art has a special meaning for our time because it fosters the virtue of unattractive attention rather than creativity. So it should be fixed and taken care of.

Over the years, I have written much about how our technology exploits, exploits, and subverts our attention. I watch how vectors of information overload and distraction always fly in from unexpected places until it feels out of control. Crawford presents another view of the same dilemma, arguing that tools lead us away from our attentional practices. Not only are we distracted, our devices give us the option to pay less attention to the world around us.

User carelessness is often the intention of newly designed technology. When Steve Jobs pitched his new Apple product, one of his favorite lines was “It just works.” His Apple ability to deliver a seamless experience is why so many of Apple’s products have changed the world.if that’s it just works, you don’t have to think how I can do it. Details will be submitted. Instead of working on intimate details, we can rely on abstractions. It’s not just about technical specs and understanding how your phone’s camera works. I’m talking about the broader, less specific spirit of curiosity that’s sold to us as a luxury item.

Crawford’s maxim, “Things need fixing and care as much as they create,” is something I’ve been unknowingly grasping in this newsletter for the past year. Construction is a universal virtue, so between the desire to build at all costs and the less visible value of preserving existing structures so that they can thrive, there is a fundamental divide in the technology industry. there is a certain tension.

Of course, I’m not against innovation and making great things. However, in this newsletter, the builder criticized Silicon His Valley’s impulse to his brain, saying: You see it in the cycle of jargon, scam-ridden pyramid schemes, and hype surrounding Web3. You can see it in the technology industry’s unwillingness to embrace the “right to repair” movement. And we see it in much of the arrogant arrogance of technology founders and investors who think they can walk into and disrupt an industry with little expertise or understanding.

Technology journalist Jacob Silberman on the vague spirit of architecture mentioned For me this week, “It’s become very important to crypto’s self-delusional vocabulary (community, financial freedom, etc.). At best, we’re building rogue casinos.”

For those afflicted with Builder Brain, the world often seems like a theoretical place, a laboratory for thought experiments. It’s a fun and vibrant world to live in, not only because the solutions are elaborate, but because their best-case scenarios are paradigm shifts and world changes. I’m here. Shop Class as Soulcraft:

Mathematics is constructive. All elements are completely within the field of view and subject to deliberate placement. In a way, the mathematical representation of the world presents it as something we ourselves have made…the world is interesting only if it can be ideally reproduced, as a projection from ourselves. Understandable. In contrast, in diagnosing and fixing what others have made (Volkswagen, God, Natural Selection, etc.), we face the obscure and the signs they reveal themselves. must always be open to

My main concern about a tech culture that prioritizes building over maintaining and rewards generously is that this particular mindset has permeated us. their tool. So by relying on their products, we are subtly incorporating their virtues. This includes the expectation of obsolescence, as builders build rather than repair. And the tools that promise us frictionless experiences, limitless productivity, and newfound creativity actually make us weakens the ability of

A world revolving around constant reimagining and obsolescence is sold to us as infinite and free. But what if that freedom doesn’t actually live up to its promise? , what if the fundamental nature of human agency “occurs only within concrete limits not of our making”? So what kind of tools do you build?