When smart people get important things wrong

Using Snow’s essay as a jumping off point, I want to consider a problem that’s been on my mind a great deal since joining the MIT Media Lab five years ago: how do we help smart, well-meaning people address social problems in ways that make the world better, not worse? In other words, is it possible to get beyond both a naïve belief that the latest technology will solve social problems and a reaction that rubbishes any attempt to offer novel technical solutions as inappropriate, insensitive and misguided? Can we find a synthesis in which technologists look at their work critically and work closely with the people they’re trying to help in order to build sociotechnical systems that address hard problems?

Ethan Zuckerman was so upset about content marketing platform “Contently” co-founder Shane Snow‘s somewhat insane essay on prison reform – “How Soylent and Oculus Could Fix the Prison System” that he wrote a response – an intelligent and coherent take down of the cult of technology solutionism, which is often hollow and clueless. This is not an opinion piece from someone on the fringe, but from a technologist who has spent a lot of his life in understanding technology and its impact. #MustRead!