Sara writes, “This new report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University explores the current state of technology criticism and argues to recognize a wider range of contributors and approaches to the popular critical discourse about technology. The report also advocates for a more constructive approach to technology criticism that fosters conversation and poses alternative visions for a more inclusive technological society. Following this constructive approach, the project offers resources including an extensive reading list and a practical style guide for better technology writing.”
I further find that technology criticism is too narrowly defined. First, criticism carries negative connotations—that of criticizing with unfavorable opinions rather than critiquing to offer context and interpretation. Strongly associated with notions of progress, technology criticism today skews negative and nihilistic. Second, much of the criticism coming from people widely recognized as “critics” perpetuates these negative associations by employing problematic styles and tactics, and by exercising unreflexive assumptions and ideologies. As a result, many journalists and bloggers are reluctant to associate their work with criticism or identify themselves as critics. And yet I find a larger circle of journalists, bloggers, academics, and critics contributing to the public discourse about technology and addressing important questions by applying a variety of critical lenses to their work. Some of the most novel critiques about technology and Silicon Valley are coming from women and underrepresented minorities, but their work is seldom recognized in traditional critical venues. As a result, readers may miss much of the critical discourse about technology if they focus only on the work of a few, outspoken intellectuals.
Even if a wider set of contributions to the technology discourse is acknowledged, I find that technology criticism still lacks a clearly articulated, constructive agenda. Besides deconstructing, naming, and interpreting technological phenomena, criticism has the potential to assemble new insights and interpretations. In response to this finding, I lay out the elements of a constructive technology criticism that aims to bring stakeholders together in productive conversation rather than pitting them against each other. Constructive criticism poses alternative possibilities. It skews toward optimism, or at least toward an idea that future technological societies could be improved. Acknowledging the realities of society and culture, constructive criticism offers readers the tools and framings for thinking about their relationship to technology and their relationship to power. Beyond intellectual arguments, constructive criticism is embodied, practical, and accessible, and it offers frameworks for living with technology.