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Sara M. Watson

Technology Criticism

Today is a conversation with Sara Watson about a report she wrote called Toward a Constructive Technology Criticism”. 

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Sara M. Watson_ Photo by Jason Grow

Watson’s article is about the importance of writing critically about technology in popular discourse. She makes the analogy to a food critic or music critic. No one confuses a food critic as not liking food or a music critic as someone who’s writing about a new album because they don’t see the value in music. But at times this appears to be the argument leveled against technology critics.

Within my own experience, I can attest to having similar moments. Just over a month ago I gave a talk that tried to thread together the potential opportunities for public space while also foreshadowing some of the pitfalls that should be highlighted only to receive two completely separately comments from the same audience. One was that I was essentially being cavalier about potential opportunities regarding our environmental futures and the other, expressed later in the day that the answer moving forward for architecture wasn’t to fear technology. My attempt was neither of these interpretations, but that is how they saw me framing the talk. No doubt, some of that response could be chalked up to potentially an unclear talk on my part, but I can’t believe that was the full extent of the misinterpretation. 

More often than not, discussion in popular discourse tends to portray technologies in communication, monitoring or otherwise, in a binary fashion of doing good or causing problems.

In talking to Sara and reading her report, it’s clear that some of these opinions are formed by reading the work of writers that chose to fall along these two artificial lines for a number of reasons, including a pressure for seductive titling of articles and headlines or the short word counts of pieces that foster simple story lines. But it’s also a bit more complicated than that. This episode with Sara Watson is an attempt look at that through the work she’s produced on the subject!

Sara M. Watson

Sara M. Watson is a writer and technology critic. She is an affiliate with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and a writer in residence at Digital Asia Hub. Sara writes and speaks about emerging issues in the intersection of technology, culture, and society. She advocates for a constructive approach to technology criticism that not only critiques, but also offers alternatives. Her writing appears in The Atlantic, Wired, The Washington Post, Slate, Motherboard, and other publications.

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