Archive for July 8, 2007

A Post That’s Not Really About the iPhone at All…

July 8, 2007

It strikes me that I haven’t blogged about the tendency of a local paper’s editor to write the most inane and/or dishonest editorials around. I think it’s time to rectify that situation.

From the Albany Democrat-Herald, editor Hasso Hering writes about the iPhone:

The main idea behind the iPhone, and other less advanced gadgets of the same sort, is to allow people to stay in communication with the world. But what is the nature of that communication? Is it worthwhile, or does it take place just because it is technically possible? And after a while, even spirited chit-chat gets old no matter how cool the technology is that allows it to take place.

Communication devices are good things only if they carry worthwhile information and news. They tend to make life worse instead of better if, at a price of $500 plus a monthly bill from a phone company, they produce mostly more chatter and noise even while they attract people’s attention and take up their time.

On the one hand, Hering sounds like a caricature of an old man – the whole editorial is of the variety I’d called “get off my lawn, you punk kids!” He writes lots of those.

On the other hand, I think Hering raises a really good point, even if he doesn’t realize it (and it pains me to no end to say that): What is the point of technology in the first place? I would say that technology is mostly a means to an end, but in modern capitalist culture, technology does seem to be an end to itself: If we can, we should.

That this idea is problematic should be obvious. The fact that it’s not is kind of scary – after all, I think it leads to many military officials and police officers wanting to use their new technology, be it a microwave beam that makes one’s feel like it’s skin is on fire on anti-war protesters and Iraqi civilians or cluster bombs and Agent Orange – or nuclear weapons. And that sort of technology-for-technology’s-sake attitude leads to a technocentric view of the world in which empathy and compassion have a tougher time surviving.

…and for the record, Hering is missing the point of the iPhone. He complains that all its features either exist already or are superfluous. Sort of – but no single piece of technology has done all the things the iPhone can while being intuitive and stylish at the same time. Besides, I think the iPhone is merely one stop along the way to a society enveloped in one giant WiFi cloud where all information is at your fingertips. Whether or not that’s a good thing is something we can debate (I’ll take the ‘no’ position).

It strikes me that Hering’s editorial is really about how since he doesn’t like the iPhone, no one else should either. Buried in that is an assumption that Hering knows what’s best for everyone else. This, I think, explains the vast majority of the editorials he writes. (I should also note that this is different than having a platform and knowing you still have to persuade your readers that you’re correct, something that many other columnists and editors realize.)

I wonder where that comes from – is it because Hering is an old white guy and just used to having the privilege of being listened to? Is it part of being a veteran editor from a different age of journalism, one in which the guys (and it was always guys) at the top of the hierarchy were allowed, unlike reporters, to voice their opinions (and people were expected to listen)? Is it something particular to Hering – i.e. just his (authoritarian) personality? Is it all of the above?

I don’t know. What I do know is that Hering’s attitude – that he is somehow smarter or more deserving of being heard than the rest of us – is old, outdated, and quite frankly, sexist – and has no business being in a newspaper in the 21st century.

Oh, and it’s anti-democratic and anti-merit if you think about it.