Note — Nov 06, 2022

Theses on the Techlash

If you are not specifically interested in the topic of the techlash, this long essay at LibrarianShipwreck might initially feel a bit too much about the semantic and short history of the word, but stick with it. Z.M.L quite clearly considers the rise of techlash, who it came from, who does the lashing, who receives it, and more importantly how it relates to the excesses of big tech and how the term has been coopted.

To summarise; techlash has become a complaint from big tech where they pose as victims, and is often ‘perpetrated’ by former tech workers like Tristan Harris. The result is that techlash doesn’t represent a movement, it just represents a dissatisfaction, and the main discourse, which has been “captured and controlled by those who remain loyal to Silicon Valley’s underlying faith in itself,” only propose the ‘solution’ of excusing past mistake and trusting that the same people won’t do it again while being the ones to trust with fixing their mistakes.

It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. My first thought was to sports, where former players fill most of the commentary seats, often only too happy to excuse things because “that’s just the way it is,” only to turn a blind eye to many an issue. But really, it’s also the same in politics and finance, or finance in politics, with rotating doors between the two and a lot of the critiques coming from former insiders. There can be value in their insights, but we and the media should look more often to the people who actually study and thoughtfully critiques these fields, not just to every ‘ex this and ex that’ who has an opinion.

Despite what its name might suggest, the “techlash” is an oddly technophilic response to technological problems, it preserves the love for the underlying technologies by directing all of the blame at a handful of companies that are charged with mishandling the adored technologies. Which is why it is important to remember that the “tech” in “techlash” doesn’t actually stand for “technology.” […]

There has been no real need to assign a name to the participants in the “techlash,” because the “techlash” doesn’t refer to specific people but refers to a widely distributed attitude throughout the larger society. […]

Instead of accepting genuine accountability, showing true remorse, and taking the sorts of steps that might be necessary to prevent causing future harms, the “techlash” protects the companies from having to really change—for the “techlash” makes it so that the companies are not the guilty perpetrators that need to change, but the aggrieved victims who have done nothing wrong. […]

There are a lot of great tech critics out there (a group that includes many activists and academics), and many of those excellent critics were trying to sound the alarm about the actions of the tech companies back when the folks in The Social Dilemma were actively creating those alarming things, but few of these critics have been elevated to the same stature as the former tech employees turned critic. […]

Thus, justified anger and concern over how algorithms reinforce inequality, the destructive materiality of digital devices, the intrusion of surveillance into ever more corners of daily life, the exploitation of often unseen workers—all of these things (and many, many more) simply get grouped together, and dismissed of, as part of the “techlash.”