If you find the blogosphere’s obsession with politics to be as pointless as I do, don’t miss Michael Anissimov’s new entry at Accelerating Future: Why Utilitarians Should Focus on Technology. Michael writes:
Our minds are programmed to overfocus on politics, and underfocus on technology. The reason why is that our ancestors evolved in an environment where the political scene was constantly changing while technology stayed roughly static. Today, both areas change rapidly, but technology has a greater impact.
So those of us who blog about technology are doing the public a service by trying to get them to focus on the greater-impact area.
I caught a little of the Dennis Prager show while out driving yesterday; the guest was the author of an exhaustive historical account of the JFK assassination intended to provide a thorough debunking of all the conspiracy theories associated with that event. In one segment, Prager talked a little about why conspiracy theories are so attractive. Among the reasons he cited were their tendency to reinforce our prejudices as well as to provide a more emotionally satisfying explanation for events than the mundane facts.
Closely related to that second reason, I think people get caught up in conspiracy theories as a form of entertainment. And although I believe there is a difference in degree (and probably in kind), politics also provides a good deal of entertainment value. I mean, there can’t be any doubt that TV shows like Hardball are primarily intended as entertainment. Rush Limbaugh and Bill Mahr make the point even more explicit.
I think a lot of people who read and write political blogs aren’t all that different from Star Trek fans. They’ve found something that’s really interesting and fun for them, and they go with it. The big difference, of course, is that political junkies know that they are dealing with matters that impact the real world, and believe that they’re having some influence on real-world outcomes. (Most Star Trek fans aren’t interested in that, although many will tell you how Trek is a force for good which has changed the world, etc.)
Most people who read and write about technology are more like Star trek fans than they are political junkies. They follow their subject primarily because it’s entertaining and fun, without much consideration as to the greater societal impact. (Although some do think about this quite a bit.) But technology has a much greater impact than Star Trek, and — as Michael demonstrates by naming two fairly obscure inventors who have had a tremendous impact on the world — a much greater impact than politics, too.
For those of us who get bored with politics pretty easily, and who are inclined to try to steer the conversation in the direction of technology, this is pretty encouraging.
Actually, as I read back over it, I would slightly disagree with Michael when he says that today both areas change rapidly. I think there’s a lot of activity in the political sphere, but not nearly as much change as all the activity suggests. Political change (when it occurs) is reactive to what’s happening in society, whereas technological change is one of the drivers of what’s happening in society.
UPDATE 2 (from Stephen):
To some extent, this might be a matter of personal taste. What’s tiresome to us might be very interesting to others. A good political rant from somebody who cares about the subject (and so has kept up), and who argues with intelligence is usually a fun and/or enlightening read.
And politics is important. The ideas by which we govern ourselves and conduct ourselves socially are a big part of who we are.
That said, I can’t think of anything that will have a more profound impact in the coming years than accelerating technological development. So nothing is more important politically. The weird thing – and Michael was pointing this out – is how few in our political and academic classes (including our bloggers) get this.
Among political bloggers a big shining exception is Glenn Reynolds.
Already I think Glenn has benefitted from this. Those who don’t understand the implications of accelerating development often find themselves themselves looking shortsighted by comparison to those who do.
Regardless of the subject-matter their blog covers – be it politics, religion, or pet cats – techno-saavy bloggers have an advantage over those who don’t understand the implications of accelerating development. They’re just less tiresome.