When Technology Takes Revenge


23 points | by feross 16 days ago


  • NicolasGorden 14 days ago

    I love Farnam Street.

    They produce some amazing content.

    But sometimes they fall into a trap of trying to define new concepts from disparate issues that don't have a clear natural delineation.

    I've seen the same in the New Yorker and Ted Talks. They fall in love with their own narrative and forget to see how applicable it is, or if there is a better 'mental model' to understand something.

    I feel this happened here.

    The mention 4 'types of revenge effects' which I simply see as something else;

    1- Repeating Effects: it sounds to me that with decreased cost per activity users have the option to increase their activity to meet whatever they want based on individual cost-benefit analysis. In the example they mention of 'end up spending the same amount of time on hosework' technology allows me to hardly ever have to clean (dish washer, robot vacuum, washing machine, insulation + central HVAC + merv 13 air filters, grilling food outside, etc) - It's really hard to spend as much time cleaning with technology as you would without it, even if your standard of cleanliness is higher. I know this from experience I grew up poor in the 3rd world. The whole point feels like forced categorization.

    2- Recomplicating effects - They also become more complex because the technology becomes more reliable and automation increases wealth. Just look at cars. They used to be less reliable and people used to be poorer. So features we take for granted now were great luxuries at some point. Yes, it's more complex, but it doesn't appear to be. Modern cars are way more complex, but cars when I was a kid were something people knew a lot about because they had to because they broke down and people were poorer. Now they break down less and they pay someone else. Again, not saying such effects aren't true, just that the examples and categories seem forced like a listicle.

    3- Regenerating effects - They mention the issue that are caused by things like pesticides and antibiotics. But forget the issues that existed before them and don't seem to count them as part of a pro and contra point of view. Overall I think whatever issues humans face as a consequence of these two, are infinitely less than the issues they faced without them. It's like there's no sense of sacrifice and underlying difficulties, instead things are discussed on absolute 'look at the bad this is causing' vs 'look at what happens with X vs what happens without X or maybe with Y instead' (perfectly illustrated with pros and cons for nuclear)

    4- Rearranging effects - basically same critique as for 'regenerating effects'.

    A part of the article that really gets me is how little they seem to delve into anything or even think things through. They say things that take about .5 seconds to understand why it isn't so. Here's another example:

    > Rather, a revenge effect must actually reverse the benefit for at least a small subset of users... typing on a laptop compared to a typewriter has led to an increase in carpal tunnel syndrome ... turns out that the physical effort required to press typewriter keys and move the carriage protected workers from some of the harmful effects of long periods of time spent typing.

    Yeah, but what about the trees that weren't cut down for the typewriters paper. The trucks that didn't have to bellow smoke through city streets to get the paper to users, etc. Surely there's a benefit to people typing on keyboards? I'm not really sure the 'revenge effect reverses the benefit' in this case for anyone. I've had carpal tunnel. Personally I prefer that to the smog and increased pressure on forest resources. Especially when mechanical keyboards, wrist braces and physical therapy work as well as they do. Not to mention the cost of storage of all that paper, the need for climate control to maintain it, the cost of classifying it and retrieving it, etc.

    At some point, it feels the author is being disingenuous in order to promote the narrative that was the basis for starting the article.

    • Nasrudith 13 days ago

      Yeah it frankly feels a bit "I'm not X but"... blatant X follows. In this case the old pseudoprofound meme about considering the impact of technology before we even try to implement it at scale when history has shown that we really had no way of knowing it and instead place all evils of the world on the inventor claiming they should have been as hindsight omniscient and not release it until preperfected to the most minute detail.

      The unneeded attempt to adhoc a redudant all consuming indexing makes it a bit better for once instead of just being tedious at least due to acknowledging that their predictions of consequences aren't that great.

      They go with the iso standard demand for caution but that warning isn't exactly useful. If the seperate seats result in more parents exposing their kids to danger by driving it says nothing about what decision any actor involved should make. Should the airline operator subsidize child tickets at the cost of all other passenger tickets rendering it a side effect? Should they not make children actually on the plane safer and shift the moral fault onto themselves for the believed systemic benefit? Or should they implement them to mean that regardless of their impact on unneeded deaths of children their hands will remain technically clean. Caution for what exactly? What is the signal supposed to tell. A warning completely empty of content of actionable things to watch for and absent handling is a useless distraction. Even something generic as "be mindful of resource usage and what happens after it becomes obsolete" would be far better as they would be actually remotelty actionable even if the desired outcome may not be foreseen.

      Looking forward the evaluation may be: "So tearing up asbetos insulation will make a real mess because it flakes everywhere, don't put it in the way of anything that needs serviced. It also will be hard to recycle."

      In hindsight however: "Oh crap it causes cancer when inhaled and it sends pieces everywhere ensuring it will be inhaled when it breaks down or is broken damage. Removing it safely in any way including tearing the whole place down will be expensive! "

      The whole "should have been more considerate before making technology" meme has the unspecified problem with unspecified solution issue while engaging in moral scapegoating by implicitly setting all of the evils of the practice on the creator who contrary to the waggling fingers is not an omniscient god capable of forseeing that their rubber bicycle tires will instead of driving trade and maybe causing some tribes to specialize in rubber tree harvesting instead of traditional self-sufficency as they trade for manufactured goods result in many hands getting chopped off in King Leopold's depraved and counterproductive evil management. All from those with future hindsight who reap the benefits with none of the work and no moral responsibility as they can do nothing to change the past. It is frankly almost resembles a nerdier version of the stereotypical high school "popular kid" image bullying for status - trying to make oneself look good by looking down on others since you aren't in violation of your lofty standards of wisdom unlike them.

      The root "damning the practical" also is related to some old Bronze age origin philsopher/aristocratic memes of lauding oneself for their leadership and lack of connection with the practical as a virtue and wise. If you want a laugh look at blatant falsehoods unchecked accepted like impetus's triangular throwing arcs or that women have fewer teeth because of having smaller heads as "purity of thought". That seperation from practicality was lauded as a virtue and wisdom reality calls "being out of touch" and folly.

      Charitably some of the worse examples may have been written by rivals as strawmen of more reasonable theses (that a well thought out model may approximate better than coarse measurements or one which tries to factor in other details badly) or were misattributed to the author now known to us as X but that didn't stop later generations from taking them dead seriously and unironically using impetus models that any artilley operator or archer would have taken as a joke.