[Plura-list] Good Intentions, Bad Inventions; Visualizing the Gartner Hype Cycle

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Oct 8 12:52:53 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Good Intentions, Bad Inventions: Busting four myths about "healthy tech."

* Visualizing the Gartner Hype Cycle: The history of predictions.

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🍞 Good Intentions, Bad Inventions

Identifying a problem is just step one: then you have to figure out
what's causing the problem and what to do about it.

When it comes to the internet, there's widespread agreement that there's
a problem, but the rest of it is very much in contention.

Take the story about "addictive tech." At its root, the idea that tech
companies compel us to use their technology without us becoming inured
to their tricks is just the mirror image of the self-congratulatory
story tech tells itself about its ability to shape our behavior.

"Good Intentions, Bad Inventions," a new pamphlet by Amanda Lenhart and
Kellie Owens from Data and Society takes aim at this story and three
others, painting a more nuanced (and evidence-based!) picture of what's
wrong with tech and how to improve it.


Take the story about addictive tech. The story is grounded in a kind of
evolutionary psych story about our caveman brains meeting high
technology. That story is just...a story, devoid of any evidence.

The thing we DO know is that versions of this story were told about
technologies from the novel to the bicycle. They're tales of how we -
especially women and children - are prisoners of biology. It's a form of
pathologizing of the new.


The evidence for tech addiction is thin, contradictory and
controversial. Individually, we each have different degrees of
susceptibility and it's possible to have a pathological reaction with
anything, but that's a story of people and their vulnerabilities, not

Meanwhile, marginalized groups often benefit from new technologies, and
the increased access and visibility they afford.

The author recommend expanding "research to include the needs and values
of a broader range of users, including youth, communities of color, and
other historically marginalized populations."

They call for more diverse tech workplaces, and to pay diverse workers
for any extra work they do helping to make products better for a broader
range of users.

The next story they take on is the idea that bad tech should be fixed
with good tech: the seductive neutrality of a tech fix belies the
complexity of systemic problems, and asking the same people who built a
broken tool to fix it just compounds the error.

So rather than paternalistic "choice architectures" and "nudging,"
figure out who's missing from your design process, and how their absence
creates blind spots in your product design.

"Sometimes, the right choice might be to not build  a technology at all. "

Look beyond tech to the policy sphere: maybe the way to fix a problem is
to advocate for a law or regulation.

The third story is "engagement" - the near-universal metric by which
tech companies measure the success of their products. Again, measuring
the number of hours a user spends or how often they visit your product
can seem like an objective way to measure success.

But this elides the subjective experience of the users, the cultural
context of their use. Metrics can annihilate the experience of outlier
users - focusing on the average can blind you to the needs of (and harms
to) "atypical" users.

The authors exhort technologists to measure success based on values, not
numbers; to divide users into subgroups that you separately evaluate;
and to incorporate qualitative investigations into quantitative analysis.

Finally, they tackle the digital detox: "Our health and well-being
depend on spending less time with screens and social media platforms."

It's natural that parents want to know how much screen time their kids
should have, after all.

The authors point out that it's far better to consider what KIND of
screen-time your kids are putting in than merely how much time they're
spending with their screens.

Screen-time can be beneficial or harmful, and for kids who are
struggling, screen-time can be a "release valve." But when we see a kid
who's having a hard time and spending lots of time online, it's easy to
assume the screen is causing the problem, rather than managing it.

The authors tell us not to try to infer what users want by observing
their use of your platform, but rather to ask users what they want, and
to pay attention to non-quantifiable outcomes like "value, pleasure and

"Use ethics teams, diverse product teams, and qualitative social science
to broaden the values that guide the design of new products."

I mean, who can argue with that?


🍞 Visualizing the Gartner Hype Cycle

VR pioneer and Disney technology exec Mark Mine went a little stir-crazy
during lockdown; as a side project, Mine scraped the entire corpus of
the Gartner Hype Cycle reports, an annual report on the rise and fall of
the public perception of various technologies.

Mine analyzed a quarter-century of data and produced a longitudinal
data-visualization video that both explains how the hype cycle works,
and traces the trends in hype cycle positions, creating a longitudinal
series that he flies through and explains.


His key insight is that while the Gartner Hype Cycle isn't much of a
predictive tool, it's a fantastic historical record: looking back on it
sheds a lot of insight on how we felt about technology and what those
feelings meant for each technology's future.

He hasn't released his data set - please release your data-set! - there
is a key sequence in the video that does one year per frame, with the
expectation that viewers will use frame-by-frame advance to examine the


🍞 Colophon

Today's top sources:

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 529 words (70147

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 17)

Upcoming appearances:

* Wired Nextfest Italia, Oct 10,

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

Recent appearances:

* The Internet Is Broken, and ISPs Are to Blame (Gizmodo System Reboot)

* Disney's Haunted Mansion (Nelda Live)

* Digital Rights, Surveillance Capitalism & Interoperable Socks (MMT

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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