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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:Newport on Evaluating Technology

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Cal Newport uses email as his example of a common error people make when evaluating a technology: homing in on its superiority to what it replaced with little thought given to how it integrates with the rest of their lives. He calls this the utility fallacy:

[It's] the tendency, when evaluating the impact of a technology, to confine your attention to comparing the technical features of the new technology to what it replaced.
But the superiority of email to, say, faxes, is hardly the whole picture. Newport continues:
news_by_fax.jpg
In terms of getting news, the internet is better... (Image by Dutch National Archive, via Wikipedia, no known copyright restrictions.)
[A]lmost everything interesting about our current struggles with [these technologies] concerns the impact of these tools on our lives beyond the screen.

The point too often missed in a cooly instrumentalist understanding of technology is that we don't use these tools in a vacuum; we instead participate in complicated social systems that can careen in unforeseen directions when powerful new technological forces are introduced. Features are important, but they're not the whole story. [bold added, link omitted]
I am glad Newport is paying attention to this kind of problem, and will smilingly think of a fax machine burying an old office in paper the next time I tidy up my in-box.

-- CAV

Updates

Today: Made minor corrections to opening paragraph. 

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