Another dot in the blogosphere?

Breaking the Sisyphean cycle

Posted on: May 11, 2021

To fully understand this tweet, you need to know who Sisyphus is. From this blurb in Merriam-Webster

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who annoyed the gods with his trickery. As a consequence, he was condemned for eternity to roll a huge rock up a long, steep hill in the underworld, only to watch it roll back down.

A research fellow at the University of Cambridge, Dr Amy Orben, borrowed this story to write a paper, The Sisyphean Cycle of Technology Panics. The tweet above nicely illustrates this with some examples of what we have worried about over time.

Why do we repeat this this pointless effort? Orben offers a condensed answer in her abstract:

In this cycle, psychologists are encouraged to spend time investigating new technologies, and how they affect children and young people, to calm a worried population. Their endeavour is however rendered ineffective due to a lacking theoretical baseline; researchers cannot build on what has been learnt researching past technologies of concern. Thus academic study seemingly restarts for each new technology of interest, slowing down the policy interventions necessary to ensure technologies are benefitting society.

TLDR? We fail to learn from history. Others much wiser have made that claim before me. So I share some image quotes I made previously by embedding them in this slideshow.

We can be better than this. We need to break the wheel. Orben suggested a UnITED Framework for Technology Research: Unique use, Individual, Time frame, Effect size, Direction. Unique use seemed to be about identifying a special affordance of technology and Individual seemed to be about specifying the unit of research.

Her paper will be critiqued by her peers. Both the paper and critiques should be useful to those who do not deeply understand or use technology but still have to shape policies or write newspaper articles about them.

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