[EAS] Technology Journalism

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Tue Mar 11 02:47:17 EDT 2008

Dar Colleagues -

There are times when practicality rules, when customers in the 
technology marketplace seem more informed and picky, and might even 
rise to the status of "tough customers." They have a need they 
understand and want addressed effectively. Terms like "demand-pull" 
come to mind, like a farmer buying a tractor.

At other times, like now, we are immersed in a cloudscape of ideas, 
few of which ever get called to task to really produce or perform, 
and very few of which ever perform well and fill an important social 
need. In fact, many ideas continuously morph into new forms when 
skepticism threatens, allowing them to stay at roughly the same 
altitude above reality. At such times the technology marketplace is 
more like a carnival, with ardent attempts by barkers to whip up 
entrancement among "users." This is "supply-push" and it's become 
economic necessity, but rarely alleviates any of our social ills.

These contrasts come to mind as I read the report on the "Ten 
Emerging Technologies of 2008" in the MIT publication "Technology 
alongside the Technology Quarterly report in the current issue of The 
Economist <http://www.economist.com/science/tq/> (this URL also 
accesses the previous Quarterly).

Once upon a time, in the 1980s and '90s, the then non-profit 
Technology Review was one of the bastions of technology policy 
writing, and on my short list of publications to follow closely. 
Regrettably in the late 1990s its status became for-profit, it was 
decided to banish any technology criticism and to increase 
readership. Thus after almost 100 years of publication, it was dumbed 
down to a mixture of WIRED, Business Week and Scientific American 
(the newer one, after its own similar decline).

The Economist, long grounded by its excellent Science and Technology 
section started by the late Richard Casement in the 1970s, and 
maintaining terse and probing editorial judgment in a complex world, 
generally seeks out technologies that are already at work, often 
decidedly less glamorous, like better turbines for power generation. 
To their credit, both current reports address the important topic of 

If you can spare the time, take your own journey through both 
reports. In Technology Review you can go back to 2001, the first year 
of their "Ten Emerging Technologies" reports and see how their 
earlier predictions fared. The Economist is regrettably stingier and 
only makes the last two Technology Quarterlies available for free.


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