Essays on Technology and Culture

Technology as Enabler

I’d like to expand a bit a point I made, yesterday, in my post “Scams, Shortcuts, and Honest Work”, namely this:

Technology is an enabler to them, offering myriad new avenues of dodges and scams, hidden traps for the unwary to fall into.

And, secondarily, this:

The power of the Internet, and technology in general, is often seen as shortcut to success.

Technology is an enabler to all of us, not just to those who seek to bend it towards the exploitation of others. While “independent content creation” pre-dates the Internet and widespread access to technology, the ubiquity of the Internet has been the biggest boon to individual people who make stuff since the dawn of economics. That is not hyperbole, either. It’s extremely easy, and extremely inexpensive to get started on any sort of creative project, and put it in front of people. Not only that, there’s plenty of people and services available to help you get started. Make music? Sign up for SoundCloud, and post your MP3s. Want to start a blog? offers you a free blog. Making crafts? Etsy.

It’s easy to get stated, but that also means that it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. There are some who say all you need to do is make good stuff, and eventually, the audience will come. [1] This is not a guarantee, especially if you’re not making good stuff. And if you’re not making anything, nobody’s going to come at all. Technology is only a tool. We need to use it to make anything, and it cares not a whit what we use it for. A router can’t determine if the packets running through it make a page of Spike’s amazing webcomic Templar, Arizona, or a keyword spam article, and more importantly, it shouldn’t.

There’s so much out there, however, that it is terribly hard to be heard above the din. We’ve sought shortcuts to find ways to make money, get attention, or both, with less work. Recently, someone discovered a seller on Amazon offering a T-Shirt with the slogan: “Keep Calm and Rape a Lot.” The sheer offensiveness of such a thing aside, it was quickly determined that the product actually didn’t exist. It was the creation of a computer program designed to come up with products based on the “Keep Calm and…” meme, and printed on demand if anyone was disgusting enough to buy it.

The seller, seeking to capitalize on a fad, found what seems like a shortcut to success. Just design a bunch of stuff that might be popular, list it on Amazon, and maybe one might succeed. If it does, they just create the physical product when necessary. The end result is probably not what they expected. It’s not Amazon’s fault that Solid Gold Bomb’s algorithm made an offensive shirt, and it’s not Solid Gold Bomb’s fault that Amazon listed it. Amazon’s service, and the algorithm are intermediaries. They’re tools. The tools can be misused, but that is not the fault of the tools. There are thousands of legitimate businesses built on Amazon’s distribution, and there are billions or more algorithms that do things that make our lives better.

The final decision about how we use these tools is our own. Technology can enable us to do amazing, positive things that benefit our world, or it can enable us to exploit the ignorance, sloth, or greed of others. Whichever we choose, the result comes not from the technology, but from the choices made by those who wield it. If we do evil, we must blame ourselves, and we must take action to stop it.

  1. Blogging daily is my attempt to see if this axiom holds true. So far, so good.  ↩