Humanity and Technology

Upon the launch of David Pogue's new Yahoo Tech site, I was initially excited, as I had long been wishing for a different kind of tech journalism. The initial word coming out of the CES announcement was that the new site would try to inject a little more humanity into tech coverage. All to the good, I thought.

But then I looked at the site, and found a series articles about "What the heck is bitcoin?" "How the internet is blowing your mind!" "How to keep your kids safe on Facebook," and "Why selfies are the end of civilization as we know it!" I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly.

In a paroxysm of disgust, I butted (perhaps rudely) into a Twitter exchange Jason Snell and Stephen Hackett were having about the new site.

@ismh @jsnell Tech journalists need criticism, but Yahoo tech is the disease, not the cure.

— Rob Mcginley Myers (@robmcmyers) January 7, 2014

Jason Snell, a writer I very much admire, did not agree.

@robmcmyers @ismh I'd say that simplifies it far too much. Less coverage of VC investors and more practicality is not a bad concept.

— Jason Snell (@jsnell) January 7, 2014

He's right of course. But the execution of that concept depends entirely upon your definition of "practicality." I agree that the problem with much of technology journalism is that instead of covering technology, it's covering the technology business. This is why there are so many articles about market share and profit share, whether Apple or Google is winning at any given moment, why Blackberry is dying and why Microsoft is fading in relevance.

I find most of that stuff tremendously boring. I'm not a VC funder or an investor, I'm just fascinated by technology, and I want to read thoughtful coverage of it, not coverage of the money it makes or doesn't make. The problem with Yahoo Tech is that it goes too far in the other direction. It's full of articles about quirky apps and products ("Computerized Jacket Visibly Shows Your Excitement Whenever You Eat Chocolate," "This Digital Whale Will Follow Your Mouse Pointer Around"), 5 most important these things, 5 most intriguing those things, 5 steps to accomplishing this other thing.

Maybe "normals" will care about and click on this stuff, but the reason it feels like a "disease" to me is that it spreads the notion that technology is mostly frivolous, there to entertain or distract us briefly before we get back to doing something important.

So it's refreshing to be reading a series of pieces this week that actually inject what I think of as "humanity" into tech journalism. First there was Shawn Blanc's piece on how the iPad has changed his grandfather's relationship to his family.

My Grandpa’s iPad has enabled him to do something that he’s been unable to do for as long as I can remember. The 9.7-inch touch screen has turned my Grandpa into a photographer.

Then there was Federico Vittici's beautiful story of how he bought his first iPod and his first Mac, and how it changed his life.

As the world is wishing a happy 30th birthday to the Mac, I think about my first iPod and I realize just how important Apple's halo effect has been for my generation. Perhaps I was going to buy a Mac anyway eventually because I was too fed up with Windows, but the iPod made me curious, excited, and, more importantly, a loyal and satisfied customer. The Mac made me eager to learn more about Macs apps and the people who were making them, so I decided to write about it and somehow I had a job again and I've met so many great people along the way, every doubt and criticism was worth it.

Finally, there's John Siracusa's piece about the introduction of the Mac, which he calls "the single most important product announcement of my life." I love that the image that he associates most strongly with the computer is the image of the team of humans that built it.

It wasn’t just the product that galvanized me; it was the act of its creation. The Macintosh team, idealized and partially fictionalized as it surely was in my adolescent mind, nevertheless served as my north star, my proof that knowledge and passion could produce great things.

This is the "humanity" we need in tech journalism. How humans strive through technology to make great things, and how humans are affected by those great things that have been made. More of that please.