Screw the techno-determinists -- give me hope instead

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You can believe in determinism and still have hope.

The technological determinism, like Muad’Dib’s visions of the future, does not delineate a single future - it shows multiple roads of different widths, multiple inevitabilities that are entangled together into a set of potential futures.

You have to fight to maintain the dynamic equilibrium. You have to run as fast as you can to stay put.

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I think that one thing that techno-enthusiasts often forget is that nothing succeeds technologically without corporate backing, which is somewhat problematical if part of the enthusiasts’ vision has an anti-corporate slant, as it often does. In the early 1990s, when I first began to use Linux, it was often presented as this subversive anti-corporate thing. But Linux succeeded (to the level that it did – not a lot of non-geeks run Linux on their desktop, but if they are Android users, they have a version in their pocket) because corporations monetized it, starting with companies like Red Hat in the 1990s, and Canonical (Ubuntu), and Google itself these days.

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That’s a good point. Sometimes it seems like Makers expect to change the world by building one hand-crafted deely-bop. Unless it’s a nuclear weapon, it’s not gonna change the world.

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Define “succeeds”.

Counterexamples could be PGP/GnuPG for comsec, Napster and its spawns for file sharing…

I’d dare to say that in many cases the corporatization and monetization comes after the success, and just keeps the ball rolling.

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Well, I’m not sure to what degree PGP and the like have really “succeeded”. Certainly only a very tiny fraction of people use them. Maybe now that Google is officially supporting a PGP plugin for Gmail this will change. And Napster is a strange choice given that what it really ended up doing is showing corporations that people wanted to obtain music over the Internet, and spawned legal alternatives like iTunes, Amazon’s MP3 store, and the like.

it is here after decades, became a common tool for signing packages in repositories and other behind-the-scenes functions, stayed with us against the will of well-funded governments.

It is a perfect example of one man’s will spawning (or at least catalyzing) a major change in the entire world. Both the current P2P networks and the legal alternatives with affordable-ish prices (would they ever go that low if not for the not-so-legal alternatives?) are Napster’s children.

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Any time anything happens, capital will figure out a way to make money on it. This rule applies so completely that even in cases like Napster, where the technology literally destroys an entire capitalist business model, there are other forms of capital which are profiting from the development.

It’s easy to take that in a defeatist way, and conclude that we can’t change the world, because no matter what changes, capital always turns it into profit. But you could just as easily conclude that capital can never change the world, because all it can do is follow behind the changes we cause, desperately engineering new ways to keep profit flowing even as its systems erode around it.

I try to remember that both conclusions are true.


You can make the capital a servant. The motive for a profit is strong. If there are money to be made on your idea, you are better positioned to get it out and to work.

Of course it is pretty challenging to find out how, and you may not always get a cut…

Capital itself is a raw energy, sort of. The art of change is how to make it flow the way we want.

LOL, I like this interpretation. Entrenched extremists on both sides of the valley, one side praising technology as our saviour, the other side screaming about how it will surely damn us all. Better to keep flowing between them, cutting spurs through the impermanent rock of their ideological foundations.

Or at least it can seem like it.

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Screw the extremists from both sides, and just play with the tech. It is more fun, less screaming across the ideological abyss, and can actually get you some extra cash. Sometimes even from the pro-tech camp, so you may like to court them somewhat; at least the ones with money.

Got a touch of icky No True Scotsmanism from that article which I generally don’t get from your writing. :frowning:

I don’t see why determinism precludes activism. It ought to produce a pressing sense of urgency (ntm compassion) in anyone investigating any consequential social issue. Situations are how they are because of past events and will only become improved situations in future if some action is taken. That’s deterministic.

Perhaps we have differing conceptions of what “determinism” means. I don’t know what you think it means; you used the word three times and I only gleaned that you think it necessarily entails naive techno-utopian hucksterism (and/or narcissistic entrepreneurship). I don’t think it does.

Regardless, determinism/indeterminism doesn’t seem to bear on your main concern that tech-savvy progressives are often cast as end-state-obsessive neophiliacs who disregard the reality that lasting social change usually requires lasting action (as opposed to a glorious new feature, product, standard, etc).

I know some progressive (and a few regressive) internet activists and some of them do actually fit that bill. They’re also young. There’s a correlation between their age and their willingness to admit, as you did, that they are often wrong. Even just a touch of humility makes a huge difference in any activist’s efficacy.

I dunno I just found that article really sub-par from you. Not all progressive tech-folk are Christ-like wrt compassion or Buddha-like wrt reflection or Stallman-like wrt digital privacy and freedom, and we needn’t pretend that they are. Some of the most intolerable people I know have done some of the most charitable and far-reaching good works and vice-versa…

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