Local Color and the Technology Pages


Years (actually decades) ago when I was struggling through college, I was taking a class in Operational Programming.  We were studying information analysis and among the topics we discussed was the concept of “Local Color”.  Without getting into the socio-analytical details, which I would be challenged to recall anyway, Local Color is a characterization of the observable indications of what a community considers important.

I will get to my point eventually…..  But first let’s do a little Local Color exercise.  If you were to walk about the streets of Baghdad sometime around 2004 you might see scores of suspicious looks from the natives, dark streets patrolled by heavily armed American soldiers.  During the day, the traffic would be stifling with multiple check-points, barricades, black-market deal-making, and the occasional improvised explosive device detonation in the distance (if you are lucky enough to be on the opposite side of the distance).  So what’s important in this community???  Survival.  Protection.  Silence.  Power.

Contrast that analysis with a quick look at the daily cruise schedule on board the “Voyager of the Seas” during Natasha’s and my honeymoon….  A dozen different meal options, para-sailing, talent shows, musical theater, shopping….  Oh, and a visit to an exotic island nation.  What’s important in our little ship-board culture?  Comfort.  Fun.  Relaxation.  Entertainment.  Eating.  Got the idea???

Back in class one of the quickest ways to sample Local Color is to take a look at the newspaper (this was back in the 80’s remember).  So, if I was to take a look at the modern version of the newspaper, perhaps the internet would do.  How about USA Today?  That might be a reasonable approximation of American Local Color.  I was curious what America thinks is important about technology.

Here comes my point….  Click on the “Tech” link of USA Today.  What do you see?  The headline on the Tech page of USA Today on November 20, 2010, is “Prevent the ‘holiday bulge’ with new fitness games”.  It doesn’t stop there.  A total of 13 out of 16 stories on the page are dedicated to either social networking, internet entertainment, gaming, or cellular phone features.  The other 3 stories….  One is about internet medical consulting, and buried at the bottom is detection of a new planet, and finally, dead last is the story “Scientists claim breakthrough in antimatter hunt”.

OK, let’s do our Local Color analysis.  If we accept that USA Today is a reasonable approximation for American culture, what is important to this community from the perspective of technology?   Entertainment.  Social connectedness.  Virtual physical fitness!!!  And ho-hum….anti-matter.  Remember, this is the “Technology” page…..

So, when exactly did technology become synonymous with computer gaming and internet surfing?  I thought technology had something to do with physics, transportation, manufacturing, medicine, oh yeah….AND communication.

Years ago futurists like Marshall McLuhan and John Naisbitt predicted an evolution from the manufacturing age to the information age.  I was ready for that.  I think we were all expecting America to become smarter — the designers, managers, innovators, communicators, and leaders of the world.  What have we done with all of this information age leadership?  We are entertaining, surfing, sharing, gaming, dissing, blogging,…… hypnotizing ourselves and the rest of the world.

It starts with what we teach our children about technology and science — about what technology really is.  It starts with planting ideas about what is NEEDED in our world.  It continues with government investing in big, bold achievements that inspire change in our priorities and values.  That creates opportunity for industry and entrepreneurs to contribute to the vision and look for new markets.

But, alas, we are focused on the new iPad.  It seems Apple has figured out how to host a bunch of really cool fitness game apps…

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2 responses to “Local Color and the Technology Pages

  1. sokit2u@yahoo.com

    Good observations in TechnoRants I and II. What I think you are referring to is “pop technology” which is basically technology that has been virtually bastardized (pun intended) for our self aggrandizement. We are living in a hedonistic age that has morphed social norms into a “what have you done for me lately” set of expectations. Those norms used to be based on tried and true methods, perseverance and loyalty, and ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Of those, only the quickest entrepreneur with the most accurate crystal ball for tomorrow’s fads seems to survive; everything else is subservient to feeding technology based opiates to the masses. The perversion is that information has actually become more polarized and less objective. The modern journalism has devolved from factual accuracy to validation of the pre-established opinions of biased readers. It has reached the point where independent thinking is labeled liberal or neoconservative depending on the specific reader’s viewpoint.
    Welcome to the Age of Journalistic McCarthyism…

    • Thanks for the sociological analysis. You are right!!! The only thing I would disagree with in your analysis is at least McCarthyism had a noble objective in identifying and eradicating communist influences in society, although the tactics were horribly flawed and counterproductive. Our Pop Technology evolution has no productive objectives that I can see other than making money and tranquilizing the masses.

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