tech discourse (even on the left) sucks

Most of the takes fall into two categories:

1. well-meaning journo types

Progressives saying 'bad google', 'bad facebook' or even 'bad cops' while treating tech as an apolitical tool that is wielded for good or evil by political actors. The most heinous example that comes to my mind is the 'racial bias in machine learning' discourse. Like yes machine learning is racially biased, but that framing of the problem implies that there is an apolitical form of machine learning that must be created. If the leading voices in these spaces took the tech seriously enough to understand how it works and why, they might realize that machine learning is an inherently authoritarian ideology that is predisposed to move control of the machine from people to corporations. It is not my intent to finger-wag at these people, just to point out what is lost when the material agency is ignored.

Something about this approach feels very postmodernist— like everything is fake and constructed and thus there is no agency to reckon with. Tech is a neutral vessel for the whims of its masters, rather than a material with some sort of non-human agency that is predisposed to certain uses.

These people tend to focus entirely on the 'evil corporations' part, not the 'evil tech' part.

2. hacker news + well-meaning tech progressives

These people tend to see tech as the answer to everything (focusing on the 'tech' part not the 'capitalism' part). I'd lump relevant and in here. Sometimes they give the tech too much agency and lean into 'the blockchain will solve everything' (like relevant). They also fall for some of the same traps as the journos, ignoring material agency and thus failing to understand the full story of why facebook is bad.

These people might say, "Oh social media is evil because you're locked into a walled-garden where you don't own your own data. Why don't you just use Mastodon or or (insert whatever blockchain app du jour)?" Here they treat a technology like social media as politically neutral, just used for evil by companies like Google and FB. They fail to interrogate the evil *inherent to* social media and so you get a bunch of twitter-without-ads platforms that don't really feel that different from using twitter. They think the problem is that FB is evil not that the entire premise of social-media-as-platform is inherently authoritarian and oppressive.

There is a slight difference between the blockchain bros and the Mastodon-progressives. The blockchain bros actually care about you 'owning' your own data– in fact that's almost all they care about. The user interface and the product incentives don't matter as long as it's backed by the blockchain. (relevant falls here)

The Mastodon (and scuttlebutt for that matter) -progressives care less about data ownership and more about maintaining the illusion of putting people in control. Mastodon,, and scuttlebutt store data on a community of servers, a central server, and your personal computer respectively. In any case you have no meaningful control about where your data ends up and who interacts with it. Furthermore the user interfaces of all these are arguably just different sorts of twitter-clones. They set themselves apart from twitter by offering a different *aesthetic* experience, not by providing anonymity / privacy guarantees nor by trading engagement-driven interaction mechanisms for something more nuanced and thoughtful.

Blockchain bros think tech will become magically better by putting it on the blockchain. Mastodon-progressives think tech will become magically better if we put "good" developers in charge and make the buttons more hip. Neither group has tackled the biggest problems: guaranteeing privacy / anonymity and giving non-technical people meaningful control over their computers + data.

These people understand the 'evil tech' part but often don't get the 'evil capitalism' part or don't get exactly *what* makes the tech evil.

required reading:


So there is this huge gap! Barely anyone takes tech and power seriously at the same time! And barely anyone is willing to question the underlying frameworks of either! So I'm going to list some writings that do! And write more myself!

here are some e-worm takes on specific technologies + their politics


here some blogs from around the web that grasp both the technical and the social

Simone Robutti
Cade Diehm / New Design Congress
Francis Tseng (scroll to writing section)