Dave Winer posted a short article last week whereupon he lamented lack of sophistication and erudition amongst technical journalists. In particular, he notes that many journalists have are not cognizant of how exactly most new technology is designed and created, citing Steve Jobs as an example of the go-to “lone creator” journalists use when discussing Apple products.
There’s very little understanding of how we [software creators] work. That’s illustrated perfectly by the Issacson bio of Steve Jobs. We now see what a disaster this is going to be, from the future-historian point of view.
I’ve thought that perhaps a panel of product creators could give awards to journalism that really captures the spirit of technology. The goal would be to move away from the lone inventor myth and see tech projects as more like film production or a even more apt, a TV series. Software is a process
The issue with technical journalism is not specific to the aforementioned domain – all journalism suffers from the fact that it consists of non-experts having to write (theoretically) truthful and insightful pieces about extremely complicated subjects, whether it is economics, world affairs, or emerging technologies. However, in the technological field this problem is exacerbated because there is a sense of wonder and “gee-whiz” mentality still associated with software and hardware. As Winer rightfully pointed out, these products are now ubiquitous in our daily lives and there is no excuse for this trite, disingenuous attitude.
What is to be done? Diner’s suggestion of an awards panel is a step in the right direction, but that doesn’t extend far enough in the realm of criticism. Journalists have a duty to report the facts and occurrences within their specific beat, but if we wish to promote technology to “art” status, we must also cultivate a canon of criticism analogous to literature and film as well.
A good first step would simply be to have more engineers writing in the public domain about technology and what it means to create and maintain “good” soft/hardware. For example, online forums, such as Hacker News, extol the virtues of the qualitative “user experience” that reminiscent of critical theory, but there is rarely such crossover into mainstream outlets. If members of the technological domain take initiative to write and publish articles that serve to establish criteria upon which we can evaluate technology, written with both engineers and initiated laypeople (e.g. journalists) in mind, we would be well on our way to propagating technical literacy at large. Journalism schools could reciprocate this notion and offer classes specifically focused on technology journalism – understanding how software operates, what it takes to build and ship it, etc etc.
Personally, as a student a liberal arts college, I think it would be wonderful to have engineers come and take courses on the history of technology in order for them to gain perspective and be able to think critically about what impact their soft/hardware is having beyond simply its function as an end-user product. We invite literature professors and journalists to come speak about matters of technology’s influence in our society, so why not the people who are making it first-hand, especially people who have been through a rigorous curriculum designed to broaden their interests and perspective?