Phil Baumann

better living through enquiry

Posts in the technology category

The Problem With GetSecret

On the iPhone app Secret. I didn’t download it. Why should I? I know where this stuff goes. Suffice to say, the makers claim that the app allows you to: “Be yourself” and “write beautifully”, with “no names or profiles” and where “great ideas spread”.

Now having “great ideas spread” – if, in fact they are great ideas – isn’t a shoddy ambition but it’s unlikely that such an app is an incubator for inventive and innovative advances. Also: seekers of patentable expressions of unique ideas would pilfer those ideas that could create markets. If one has a great idea, it’s best to recognize the value of secrecy from others, lest the pain of seeing someone else earn the licensing fees persists unto the deathbed.

Back to the idea of “Secret” with an observation: as people use social media more to communicate, and less often face-to-face, the need to communicate things that they cannot (or won’t) admit into the public ether grows. The problems is: it’s an artificial inflation of a human need.

To confess is not to just speak or to communicate a hidden desire or a shameful fact. To confess is to confront a deep-seated problem that cannot be uttered in the daily conversation with others. To confess is to reflect – in the hope that the reflector has the wisdom to listen (not just hear) what can’t be fully processed by the confessor.

This is not something that an app can accomplish. And that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because it reminds us that we need smarter people and dumber computers – not the other way around. That is to say: the problems we need to solve should invoke only just-smart-enough technology that does the lifting so-to-speak. Setting out to replicate human intuition, for instance, isn’t necessary; rather, using computation to check our intuition is the sufficiently dumb solution.

Secret is simply an example of Silicon Valley misunderstanding basic human needs and – in complete opposition to its claim to advance and enhance human beings – is a setup for collective, imitative violence.

Why? Because in the process of sharing secrets to contacts anonymously the likelihood of abusive ‘secrets’ increases and because GetSecret’s conception of ‘secrets’ replaces true confession with its illusion. Violence isn’t just physical: it’s emotional, political, intellectual, and social.

People do need to confess, to tell secrets at the right time, in the right contexts, with the right people. Confession releases the inherent tension that represses the violence of force required to keep them – until the tension snaps and the “horrible errors of childhood” come “storming out to play”.

We Are Not the Center of the Technology

The human problem of technology is not that it will oppose us, nor that it will support us. Both schools of thought assume that we are at the center of “the Technology” – as if technology is out there for us with which to develop inter-relationships wherein technology extends from us and to us.

No – the human problem of technology is that technology does not care. We are not the center of the technology. In this sense, Friedrich Kittler was right where McLuhan was wrong.

Just as we learned hundred of years ago that our planet was not the center of the solar system, so too must we realize that we are not the center of technology. The current debates about technology are mostly dived into the two world views: the utopian and the dystopian.

What we must replace with those views is an “atopian” perspective: that there is no place for us in the center of Technology. Technology does not extend what we already possess – it replaces our eyes, our ears, our fingers, and – in limited extents – our brains.

The technology doesn’t care about us at all. Do you understand that? The problem isn’t that it hates or loves us. It’s not even that it ignores us, for that is an active process. It doesn’t care.

Every single time we approach and come into contact with anything technological, it is we who have to do the caring. The program doesn’t care.

Imagine a relationship with someone who doesn’t care about you at all. At least when someone on whom you depend hates you, you know where not to go. With love,  you know where to go. To love or hate such a person is pure madness.

Where do you go with someone who doesn’t care at all?

Whatever new ideologies concerning technology that we evolve, we must abandon the human-centric view of technology because it will blind us from the solution to the human problem of the technology:

We have to do a lot more caring than we have ever done before our time.

Paradoxically, once we realize it isn’t about us any longer, we can make it about us again.  Isn’t that what a civilization is for anyway?