Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Song of Technological Progress

There is a chorus singing somewhere just out of sight, and if you listen, you can hear the echo of their voices in every lab and every office in the world.

The melody carries through our portable phones and our cars, and through every modern transaction you conduct. The rhythm is syncopated with the tapping of my keyboard as I type these words, and the backbeat is in time with the microsaccadic movements of your eyes as you try to focus past the glare on your monitor to read them.

This is the Song of Technological Progress, as it is sung in the 21st Century. 

And the words they’re singing? The lyrics of this omnipresent muzak are hardly important so long as everyone keeps humming in time. In fact, it would probably be better for all of us if we were to just mumble smilingly along like a politician singing his national anthem and forget about the meaning… better for us as developers and thinkers and planners and Engineers…

But as humans; as humans it would help us to listen to the words, to try and drag the meaning of them out into our shared understanding.They are familiar words. As programmers and Computer Scientists, as technicians and office workers and especially as Ergonomists, we sing these words all day long. The tune has grown more popular than ever before but the words... what has become of the words?

“Human-centered design” is in there somewhere, as is “intuitive” and “ergonomic”, but just like “trusted” and “proven” and “reliable” and “guarantee”, the words have lost all meaning under the sway of the powerful jingle that has everyone singing and humming and drumming 24 hours a day.

Well, I guess I have to admit that these words haven’t lost all meaning...

Now they all seem to mean: “BUY THIS!”


  1. Thank you, John! And could the antidote against lyrics that have lost their meaning be philological analysis and the remedy to words being abused rely on etymology?

    Then a beneficial way to approach a scientific field dominated by the hype like Human Computer Interaction would be to consider its history and the reasons that determined its evolution to see what lessons we can learn.
    I know that you have a lot of stories about that and I can't wait for you to tell them us...

  2. I'm afraid the answer will have to be crowd-sourced disdain for the philosophy of commercialism over content. Maybe the maker community will help to lead the way...
    I'll look forward to discussing this with you once we have both come back from vacation!