Tech Dumb

I’ve been noticing recently a mindset I call Tech Dumb. It’s not limited to technology by any means, but it has its perfect expression in it.

Tech Dumb: The idea that the disruption caused by new forms of technology will always be beneficial.

This is based on the wrongheaded idea that because it benefits me, it should benefit everyone else. Usually it ignores the entities that the disruption hits the most keenly, because to the Tech Dumb, they don’t matter. If you want the perfect expression of Tech Dumb, browse sites like Slashdot or Ars Technica and read the comments section of any article.

Here are a few examples of disruption:

Netflix: I use it too. But sometime, for fun, try driving out and renting from a physical store. You’ll notice you can’t find any.

Netflix and Redbox have combined to put dedicated video stores out of business. While this benefits by lowering the cost and reducing things like rental fees and overdue costs, it has destroyed other things. We’ve lost jobs and taxes as the independent and chain stores have folded. We’ve lost something else: the experience of being in a discrete store where we can meet other people, and just talk. In a way its a loss of community: we get our videos quicker and cheaper, but we are isolated from each other doing so.

Piracy: The big Tech Dumb sacred cow. Tech Dumb people always underplay the effects. Usually they focus their rage on the publishers and distributors, without realizing that piracy harms content creators as well. The disruption from piracy and its various Tech Dumb solutions (making content free, charging not enough to make content worthwhile) is not small on content creators, who are just as vulnerable when they go without a publisher as they do.

Piracy is giving us solutions now which also tend to be accepted uncritically by the Tech Dumb. Steam, for example. I hope you like downloading PC games online, because Steam and digital distribution is killing off box sales. You can’t underestimate this, because boxes persist even beyond digital distribution. I can still buy an old console game, but for older PC games, you are at the mercy of the content owner who decides if rereleasing is worth it.

F2P games: Remember, Tech Dumb is only not seeing the harmful aspects of disruption. It doesn’t mean you are dumb. F2P games constantly get boosted because they promote choice, allowing people to “own” their characters since they can log in at will without paying anything. This is classic Tech Dumb, because it focuses solely on the person’s own immediate benefit.

F2P has had a ton of disruptive effects. It’s flooded the market with many poorly and cheaply made MMOs that draw subs away from good ones due to the ability to play them entirely for free. This can’t be understated: reading the game list at MMORPG.com show a majority of the games released are such.

It also has become a crutch preventing real change for games. Your game can’t hold on to its audience due to questionable design decisions and devs not thinking? It adds nothing new to the genre? Rather than make the hard work of changing elements of gameplay, just cut a fast f2p conversion to boost numbers. They’ll play it for free, and maybe a few more will sub.  Never mind your core base getting annoyed that any flaws wont be corrected because it makes more sense to focus on the F2P side and keep the numbers churning.

I’m not going to go too deep into this to avoid a multi-page rant. The take away point is in ignoring disruption due to immediate benefit. The Luddites are often a used as a joke now, the typical anti-technology haters. But few people remember they arose mostly out of the disruption technology provided by destroying jobs and transforming not only an entire industry, but the meaning of work itself.

It may turn out that the disruption a technological advance may cause is minimal. But each advance needs to be analyzed and discussed to make sure that we are not ignoring a potentially harmful paradigm shift. Whether in MMOs, or in digital distribution, or even in things you wouldn’t think of, like the technology of divorce: how many divorce advocates would have thought when champion for no-fault divorce we’d see over half of couples choose it? To counter Tech Dumb is to put yourself beyond your own immediate benefit and consider all sides of a change. It also means to be literate in tech, to a basic level.

This is something we have to learn to do, and fast. Disruption is only growing greater each day. Cable did not exist 30 years ago: neither did video games or cell phones. Tech spurts now hit every 5-10 years. We can’t afford to be tech dumb now, because it wont be long till the effects of the disruption become evident and tech becomes entrenched.

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