I Am a Technology Curmudgeon

Perhaps this is related to my rant on why I hate “social media experts.”

There is a hype machine that is driving the evolution of technology (gadgets and web 2.0). Robert Scoble knows this all to well. I’m sick of  seeing coverage on tech for tech’s sake. Scott Karp said it all too well.

“What happened is tech blogging turned into trade publishing on a new CMS (with comments and a lot of attitude).”

I wish I could say it better, but I can’t. So how did we get here and how can we get out? I don’t claim to be the ultimate authority – but allow me to think out loud.

The Problem: Technology is a means, not an end. It is a means to living a more connected life, a means to meeting new people that can help you make the world better. “Communication is key.” That’s what web technology is about. This is why I recently wrote that the technology blogosphere needs to mature.

All too often we mistake the forests for the trees when it comes to tech blogging. We become fascinated with the personalities behind the companies, latest gadgets, A-list bloggers and their occasional bitch-memes . Part of this is human nature (Brittany Spears still gets headlines). Another part of it is that technology is a HUGE money maker for anyone who plays in the space at any level. Even the blog-spammer is taking a piece of the pie.

Is technology at fault? No – technology is a medium, not the message. Some tech tools are great. As Amy Gahran pointed out, this is why Twitter is so revolutionary, it directly connects people to each other. No middleman, no pr agent, no social media expert is needed.

The problems occur when I can’t tell if the information coming to me has been influenced by something other than a persons open and honest opinion.

Let’s take Mashable (although I hate to pick on any one site). I suspect they are in bed with a TON of  PR and marketing firms. I went to the SF Mashable meetup and half the people in attendance were beautiful, scantily dressed girls who worked in PR.

It might be that Pete Cashmore is just that dreamy. It might also be that Mashable’s editorial decisions are driven by press releases and this was an event to celebrate that ongoing relationship. Hey, if the shoe fits.

I’m not blaming Mashable. It works – they produce more content (easy to re-write a press release) get more eyeballs, more traffic and can even charge the same tech companies they are writing about for advertising that looks like real content.

Who loses?

The reader – especially if they don’t know how or why editorial decisions are made. Note the distinction: It’s not that a blog can’t act like a trade publication, it’s that they need to be upfront about it. Then we can make our own decisions. Right now – there is no way to find out for certain.

As my favorite  J-school professor used to say: “Don’t write about the circus if you’re fucking the elephant.” I think the time’s are a changing: You can still write about the circus. Freedom of speech and everyone has easy access to a cheap CMS. But you better let me know about the relationship with the elephant. If you don’t and I find out – not only will I never trust you, but I’ll make sure nobody else does either.

(can I get Hans Blix up in this?)

I don’t doubt lots of people read Mashable thinking “man, how do they find all this cool stuff!” Of course the answer is: It’s sent to them with a pretty bow wrapped around it. Their editorial direction is market driven, so they aren’t serving readers, their serving tech companies that need users.

Now this is all about technology – so who really cares? Get off your high horse Digi-Dave (you think to yourself).

But imagine if we were talking about the pharmaceutical beat? People’s lives hang in the balance. What about health or environment? Make no mistake – you pick a general reporting topic and there are billions of dollars at stake.

I’d love for somebody to leave a comment that convinces me that the tech blogosphere is alive and well, only has our best interests at heart and in its spare time helps old ladies cross the street. But I continue to be disappointed. The tech blogs are starting to be suspect of the same thing that “mainstream” media has traditionally been accused of: the bigger you are, the more money involved – the more you have to lose, the more you have to keep a status quo.

As for me: I’m getting over this technology rant: I’m going back to civic issues (the upcoming SF election). Tech is fun – but people are what makes the world go round.