Note — Mar 08, 2020

Progress, Postmodernism and the Tech Backlash

Seen in → No.116

Source →

I really should take the time to do some proper book reading about modernism, postmodernism, metamodernism (?) so I might be able to judge how accurate the portrayal is here. Nonetheless, seems like good framings of the first two, how postmodernism molds the current tech landscape, and how it can be used as a lens to understand the Tech Backlash.

Modernism fundamentally cared about progress. Your impression from looking around the world, even just looking outside your window, was of definite, forward progress everywhere. Houses went from dark to light. Travel went from slow to fast. Infection went from deadly to curable. […]

Postmodernism began as a conscious reaction to modernism: disillusion with absolute ideals and unstoppable progress; new emphasis on subjective experience and relative change. Postmodern art and culture emphasized a meta-awareness of the old utopian ideals, often by mocking them. New was out. Irony, remixing, and self-reference were in. […]

As progress becomes a question of assumed risk, rather than asserted power, building the future looks less like a mission and more like arbitrage. […]

The first point is “The tech industry is the worst of late capitalism.” This critic argues that the prime directive of tech companies is to move fast and break things, exploit labor, regulatory and geographic arbitrage, and then extract shreds of profit out of dying institutions in the name of consumer convenience. Amazon destroyed retail, Google and Facebook destroyed newspapers, Uber is destroying labor, Airbnb is destroying neighbourhoods; that kind of thing. […]

To this critic, the window of opportunity for reshuffling existing stuff will almost always be open wider than the window of opportunity to invent something fundamentally new.