Thursday, 25 June 2015

Questions worth not asking

We already know that you should 'never send to know for whom the bells tolls' (it tolls for thee, stupid) and we remember Kennedy's more questionable exhortation to 'ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country' (it all sounds very good and altruistic, but you'd kind of hope that in any well-run society these two options wouldn't simply exist as binary alternatives with a zero-sum outcome).

I just came across a more relevant question to not ask:

'ask not simply ‘Is it more efficient?’ or ‘How much does it cost?’'

The right question to ask is:

‘Is it good or bad? For whom? According to which standard?’

The quote was mined from Ian Beacock's interesting piece on the historian Arnold Toynbee. I'm not fully on board with Beacock's idea that 'technology cries out for robust criticism.' In my view it isn't the technology itself that needs a good talking to, but the way problems get framed, along with the sort of unexamined assumptions that narrow the range of possible solutions down to fit a particular group's unspoken, partisan agenda. But his article's well worth a read, anyway.