Our technology faith officially died this week

I felt relieved when I started writing about technology full time more than 12 years ago.

Many industries and people were still reeling from and angry about the Great Recession. The technology industry felt like an island of bubbly optimism about its future and ours. Faith in the magic of technology was painfully earnest — and refreshing.

But we’ve changed and the technology industry has changed.

There has been a slow metamorphosis of America’s technology industry from David to Goliath. Along with it, the zesty confidence of the early 2010s has curdled. Our bubbly faith in technology is now tempered by mistrust and resentments.

That shift was spotlighted this week by a landmark European law trying to wrest power from Big Tech, fresh allegations that Meta repeatedly failed to help people whose social media accounts were hijacked by scammers and a fight between rich tech executives over artificial intelligence that’s more about their self interest than our needs.

Many of us are grateful for technology and hope it can help us solve thorny problems. We also fear that many technologies and tech companies are making us and the world worse. We’ve become more worried than hopeful about inventions like AI.

Our feelings about technology may not be facts. But they do influence how we view technology and the world around us. And there’s no turning back to the fresh optimism I felt years ago.

The anxiety behind Big Tech crackdowns

The European Union this week enshrined the most consequential law to date trying to knock America’s technology superpowers down a peg.

It’s easy to get bogged down in boring legal mechanics. What’s relevant is that lawmakers and regulators in Europe — along with those in the United States and many other countries — are asking the kinds of exasperated questions about technology that many of you ask yourselves and me:

  • If technology is so great, why is so much of the internet teeming with scams?
  • Why, as a reader emailed me this week, if you’re searching on Amazon for a particular brand of sandals do you turn up a zillion irrelevant shoes? (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
  • If you have an Android phone, why do you get a shriveled video or weird-looking emojis texted from your buddy with an iPhone?
  • Why does it feel impossible to keep drug dealers and child predators out of your teen’s social media feeds?
  • Is there any way to avoid unscrupulous companies harvesting your personal information when you file your tax return, visit your doctor or go to sleep at night?

You might say these are trivial annoyances or some of the unavoidable downsides of technology making it easier to do things that used to be difficult, including spreading deceptions and committing crime.

But many government regulators and elected officials see examples like those as the consequences you’re facing from unrestrained or intentional abuses of technology power.

When a company gets big enough, it can afford to care about its own interests far more than yours.

Weeding out scams and lies, which is already difficult, becomes less important now that companies including Google and Meta are too big for your frustrations to have any real consequences for the companies.

Apple has so many devoted fans, and an unshakable self-belief in its own good intentions, that it compromises the privacy and usefulness of your texts and says it’s for your own good.

Amazon gets paid to show you irrelevant sandals in your search results. The company also says that’s for your own good.

The live or proposed tech laws and government litigation — including a renewed effort to ban the TikTok app in the United States — may not be the right approach to tackle your technology exasperation. It’s easy for governments and us to resent the success and wealth of technology companies and executives.

But the repeated attempts at legal restraints on technology have in common a nagging feeling that maybe you share: Technology doesn’t necessary seem to be working out for us as we hoped.

We feel the ways that technology is great and it’s also the worst. And we’re right to ask, is there anything we should do? Or is this just the way it has to be?

Source : www.washingtonpost.com

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