Essays on Technology and Culture

Tech’s December Doldrums and The Bigger Picture

December is the hardest time to be on the technology beat. It’s the slowest month of the year, which is why most technology journalism bends towards the best deals on potential holiday gifts, best-of lists, or best-of lists of potential holiday gifts. If you’re wondering why so many people are writing hot take thinkpieces on Apple’s new battery case, now you know. There is nothing else to talk about.

My own writing has often tapered off near the end of the year—often there’s just nothing to write about. Combine that with the general madness of the holiday season, and it’s a recipe for doing anything but making the clackity noise. This year has been especially maddening, when you factor in recent events in the Apple blogging community. I don’t even consider myself an Apple blogger, though I certainly have a toe in that pool. For my own role in the Bielefeld saga, I apologize. I’ll probably be on Marco Arment’s Twitter blocklist for eternity, which is my punishment for being suckered, I suppose.

But it also leaves me thinking about the nature of technology writing, my writing, and a feeling of dissatisfaction with the general beat. There’s the endless cyclical arguments about App Store pricing models, about whether an iPad can replace a Mac, about thinness versus battery life, about the Android approach versus Apple. The more we go around and around in the circular arguments, the less I care. I’m a user of consumer technology: personal computers, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches—but I’m not captivated by the devices themselves. They are tools, nothing more.

And I certainly don’t care about the stock prices and earnings reports about these companies. As long as the companies that make the tools I use stay in business, that’s all I need.

I care about what we can do with these tools. I care about what these tools are doing to us. I care about the people—not just coders, hackers, and designers, artists, citizens, and the global community. It’s a sentiment I’ve stated here before, after the wonderful Facets Conference, back in May

I’m sick, tired, and just plain bored of breathless excitement over the latest and greatest consumer gadget. I’m also sick, tired, and just plain bored of breathless anger over the latest and greatest consumer gadget. It gets us nowhere, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone else… I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with occasionally looking at the tech world from that level, but right now I feel like it’s missing the forest for the fourth leaf on the middle-bottom right branch of the thirty-seventh tree to the east-southeast.

But there’s a problem. When I try to think about these things, when I step out of the comfort zone of writing about consumer technology and try to write about bigger topics, I get lost. I’m not a programmer, I’m not a hacker, I’m not a technology academic. I’m a gadget nerd who failed a Computer Science program and went back to school for a Liberal Arts degree. [1] I want to learn more, I need to learn more, and I don’t know where to start. And, why lie, the numbers on the posts where I do write about these things aren’t nearly as good as the ones about Apple and gadgets.

I’ve struggled to find people writing and talking about technology and society on the regular to learn from. I’ve read some amazing books like Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology lectures, and Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything Click Here. I’ve found a handful of podcasts: Spark, from CBC Radio and Note to Self from WNYC, but that’s about it. (There’s also Mindful Cyborgs, which could be great if they would just bring someone on to edit the audio properly.) I’ve not found anyone writing about this on a regular basis, just the occasional diamond among the dross.

This isn’t to put down the work of the people who write about gadgets, about Apple’s finances, about battery cases, and keep up with the day-to-day minutia of happenings in tech. They do work that is valuable to someone—often work that is valuable to myself, too. Keeping up with what’s happening in this space, even if it’s just new products, is important. I just don’t feel the need to read fifty stories rehashing the same press release, and listen to six podcasts rehashing the fifty stories—but you do you, you crazy gadget lovers and Apple followers.

Moving into 2016, I hope to move further away from writing about gadgets and Apple stuff, and more into writing about the bigger issues and topics that technology touches. I also plan to write more about music, since that’s a passion of mine. (Keep your eyes out for my best music of 2015 post, coming before year’s end.) If nobody is going to write the blog I want to read, it comes down to me. It’s going to be a struggle and a journey of discovery. I’m hoping there’s a few other seekers along the path who will join me. There’s more to talk about that’s happening beyond the latest smartphone accessories. Let’s find it.

  1. I am working on a programming project that I will talk about another time. But, being able to write code is not the same thing as being able to think and write about technology on the level I aspire to.  ↩