Computing isn't everything

The technology world has many problems: sexism, homophobia and/or heterosexism, classism, ageism, trolls, and more – often reflecting the imperfections of broader society. One of the more pernicious problems is our denigration of the non-technical. Yes, science and technology are important, and computing in particular is important – but it is not everything. Science and technology are nothing without public understanding and engagement – a computer does nothing without an operator.

Crypto is hard, let’s become journalists!—nickdepetrillo (Twitter screencap)

When you say “X is hard, let’s do Y”, there are a few implications.

First, you imply that X is harder than Y, and therefore of greater value. But, that you are complaining about it implies that you value it – so you contradict yourself already. Setting that aside, it isn’t at all clear that journalism is more difficult than technical work. Different people are suited to different things, and what’s easy for one might be nigh-impossible for another. More importantly, whether a thing is easy has little bearing on whether it is useful or valuable. Many things that are easy have great value no matter what is easy to you, and no matter what you value.

Second, you imply that the purported speaker is lazy and/or stupid, and therefore cannot do X, and must therefore settle for doing Y, which is lesser. It is bad enough to imply that an entire domain isn’t valued, but it is at least abstract, and so silly it barely needs refuting. This second implication is a direct attack a particular, personal, target – and that’s wrong.

“The reporting is bad, and reporters are worthless” is a Catch-22, and it cannot be permitted to stand. Journalism is critically important to a healthy society. News reporting, and long-form writing, documentary filmmaking, and all the rest of it is valuable, and I’m thankful for the reporters, and the photographers and audio technicians and fact checkers and support staff.

If you want better technology journalists, then one place to start would be getting some technologists to become writers - but that won’t happen if you castigate anyone who tries to do so. You’re creating the very problem you’re complaining about.

Until we take a step back and understand the role technology has in our society, we won’t understand that other disciplines are in many ways more important. And until we understand how those relationships work, we won’t be able to have the impact we want.

We should strive to have better journalists. But to do that, we have to start from a place of respect, instead of one which denigrates an entire discipline and its practitioners. The next time you start feeling superior because you’re a technologist, consider that computing isn’t everything. Consider that that attitude is a big part of the problem. And adjust your attitude accordingly.