Technorealism.Org is an
important historical site. On its original launch, it raised issues,
regarding values and technology, which were rarely debated elsewhere.
These values and issues,
however, are as important today as they ever were. This site is
therefore being preserved, and protected, for your current and future enjoyment.
The open collaborative
guide to ITIL, the IT infrastructure library.
collaboration for the Prince2 information technology
project management method
This site is now owned
by the Historical Site Preservation Group, although the copyright on the original content is retained by David Shenk.
The answer is both. Technology is making life more convenient and
enjoyable, and many of us healthier, wealthier, and wiser. But it is
also affecting work, family, and the economy in unpredictable ways,
introducing new forms of tension and distraction, and posing new threats
to the cohesion of our physical communities.
Despite the complicated and often contradictory implications of
technology, the conventional wisdom is woefully simplistic. Pundits,
politicians, and self-appointed visionaries do us a disservice when they
try to reduce these complexities to breathless tales of either high-tech
doom or cyber-elation. Such polarized thinking leads to dashed hopes and
unnecessary anxiety, and prevents us from understanding our own culture.
Over the past few years, even as the debate over technology has been
dominated by the louder voices at the extremes, a new, more balanced
consensus has quietly taken shape. This document seeks to articulate
some of the shared beliefs behind that consensus, which we have come to
Technorealism demands that we think critically about the role that
tools and interfaces play in human evolution and everyday life. Integral
to this perspective is our understanding that the current tide of
technological transformation, while important and powerful, is actually
a continuation of waves of change that have taken place throughout
history. Looking, for example, at the history of the automobile,
television, or the telephone -- not just the devices but the
institutions they became -- we see profound benefits as well as
substantial costs. Similarly, we anticipate mixed blessings from today's
emerging technologies, and expect to forever be on guard for unexpected
consequences -- which must be addressed by thoughtful design and
As technorealists, we seek to expand the fertile middle ground
between techno-utopianism and neo-Luddism. We are technology
"critics" in the same way, and for the same reasons, that
others are food critics, art critics, or literary critics. We can be
passionately optimistic about some technologies, skeptical and
disdainful of others. Still, our goal is neither to champion nor dismiss
technology, but rather to understand it and apply it in a manner more
consistent with basic human values.
Below are some evolving basic principles that help explain technorealism.
PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOREALISM
- 1. Technologies are not neutral.
- A great misconception of our time is the idea that technologies
are completely free of bias -- that because they are inanimate
artifacts, they don't promote certain kinds of behaviors over
others. In truth, technologies come loaded with both intended and
unintended social, political, and economic leanings. Every tool
provides its users with a particular manner of seeing the world and
specific ways of interacting with others. It is important for each
of us to consider the biases of various technologies and to seek out
those that reflect our values and aspirations.
- 2. The Internet is revolutionary, but not Utopian.
- The Net is an extraordinary communications tool that provides a
range of new opportunities for people, communities, businesses, and
government. Yet as cyberspace becomes more populated, it
increasingly resembles society at large, in all its complexity. For
every empowering or enlightening aspect of the wired life, there
will also be dimensions that are malicious, perverse, or rather
- 3. Government has an important role to play on the electronic
- Contrary to some claims, cyberspace is not formally a place or
jurisdiction separate from Earth. While governments should respect
the rules and customs that have arisen in cyberspace, and should not
stifle this new world with inefficient regulation or censorship, it
is foolish to say that the public has no sovereignty over what an
errant citizen or fraudulent corporation does online. As the
representative of the people and the guardian of democratic values,
the state has the right and responsibility to help integrate
cyberspace and conventional society.
Technology standards and privacy issues, for example, are too
important to be entrusted to the marketplace alone. Competing
software firms have little interest in preserving the open standards
that are essential to a fully functioning interactive network.
Markets encourage innovation, but they do not necessarily insure the
- 4. Information is not knowledge.
- All around us, information is moving faster and becoming cheaper
to acquire, and the benefits are manifest. That said, the
proliferation of data is also a serious challenge, requiring new
measures of human discipline and skepticism. We must not confuse the
thrill of acquiring or distributing information quickly with the
more daunting task of converting it into knowledge and wisdom.
Regardless of how advanced our computers become, we should never use
them as a substitute for our own basic cognitive skills of
awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.
- 5. Wiring the schools will not save them.
- The problems with America's public schools -- disparate funding,
social promotion, bloated class size, crumbling infrastructure, lack
of standards -- have almost nothing to do with technology.
Consequently, no amount of technology will lead to the educational
revolution prophesied by President Clinton and others. The art of
teaching cannot be replicated by computers, the Net, or by
"distance learning." These tools can, of course, augment
an already high-quality educational experience. But to rely on them
as any sort of panacea would be a costly mistake.
- 6. Information wants to be protected.
- It's true that cyberspace and other recent developments are
challenging our copyright laws and frameworks for protecting
intellectual property. The answer, though, is not to scrap existing
statutes and principles. Instead, we must update old laws and
interpretations so that information receives roughly the same
protection it did in the context of old media. The goal is the same:
to give authors sufficient control over their work so that they have
an incentive to create, while maintaining the right of the public to
make fair use of that information. In neither context does
information want "to be free." Rather, it needs to be
- 7. The public owns the airwaves; the public should benefit from
- The recent digital spectrum giveaway to broadcasters underscores
the corrupt and inefficient misuse of public resources in the arena
of technology. The citizenry should benefit and profit from the use
of public frequencies, and should retain a portion of the spectrum
for educational, cultural, and public access uses. We should demand
more for private use of public property.
- 8. Understanding technology should be an essential component of
- In a world driven by the flow of information, the interfaces --
and the underlying code -- that make information visible are
becoming enormously powerful social forces. Understanding their
strengths and limitations, and even participating in the creation of
better tools, should be an important part of being an involved
citizen. These tools affect our lives as much as laws do, and we
should subject them to a similar democratic scrutiny.
Since March 12, 1998, over 2500 people have signed their names to
these principles. Here's the current
list of names, and here's how you can add
the drafters of the document.
a Spanish adaptation of technorealism (temporarily unavailable).
an Italian adaptation of technorealism.
a Japanese adaptation of technorealism (temporarily unavailable).
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