Kranzberg Revisited: Too Much Technology?

I ask a series of questions about the actual and normative limits of technology.

A few months ago, I wrote a post on Kranzberg’s Six Laws of Technology. Perhaps my favorite of the six is the following:

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

Since happening upon this law, I have been noticing it more and more.

With that as a backdrop, consider the recent story on CNN: Dating site for beautiful people expels ‘fatties’ after holiday weight gain. I found the following quote particularly fascinating:

As a business, we mourn the loss of any member, but the fact remains that our members demand the high standard of beauty be upheld,” said Robert Hintze, founder of BeautifulPeople.com. “Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded.”

Hintze seems to contradict himself. He clearly doesn’t mourn the loss of certain members, especially the portly.

On a different level, much like a bad pick in a fantasy football draft, perhaps the best response to this story is simply, “Wow.”

Fundamental Questions

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Yes, Web 2.0 enables sites to cater to every possible desire. I suppose that, if there’s sufficient demand, one can set up a site for agnostic single 48 year old curators of large mammals in Massachusetts. Business Intelligence (BI) technology will only improve the ability to mine data and isolate groups and individuals from the masses. In a way, a site like BeautifulPeople.com is inevitable.

With that in mind, I still have many more questions than answers. I barely know where to begin here.

  • What are the moral and ethical ramifications of letting sites openly discriminate against a group of people?
  • What constitutes being a “fatty” and how can they possibly control for this? Do they use the Body Mass Index?
  • Are being overweight and beautiful mutually exclusive?
  • What–if any–laws apply in situations like this?
  • What–if any–laws should apply in situations like this?
  • At what point will BeautifulPeople.com find itself in court?
  • Is this merely capitalism at its finest?
  • Where does all of this end?

Perhaps I am more acutely aware of things like this after reading The Cult of the Amateur, a fascinating and controversial book by Andrew Keen about the normative limits of technology (among other topics).

Feedback

What do you think? Am I showing my curmudgeonly side? Are these legitimate issues?

philanimated

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3 Comments

  1. Jim Harris

    My favorite Kranzberg’s Law remains:

    “Technology is a very human activity—and so is the history of technology.”

    Therefore, I completely agree that the issues you raise are legitimate – however, they are not new issues caused by technology – they are perennially human issues.

    Advancements in technology are simply allowing more of the human condition (both the good and bad aspects of it) to be shared more publicly with a larger number of people.

    From my perspective, BeautifulPeople.com is no different than cliques at my high school (in Massachusetts, by the way), which long before the Al Gore invented the Internet, culled its membership of “fatties” as well as geeks, dorks, nerds, and the rest of us (myself included) who would sit at the Losers Table in the movie “The Wedding Singer” and scream along with Adam Sandler’s character as he sang “Love Stinks!”

    Therefore, the Internet and other social networking technology isn’t changing, subverting, undermining, or as Keen would say, “Destroying our culture and our values.”

    Although it is true that the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (and by Ugly I am not referring to physical beauty) all exist on the Internet, as well as within human nature, I have always believed that human beings are basically good because we are capable of good.

    The Bad and the Ugly make for better news fodder and entertainment value, which is why we hear more about them. However, the truth is simply that they are a loud but very small minority.

    So to quote Peter Pan (and Battlestar Galactica – which was quoting Peter Pan):

    “This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.”

    Reply
  2. philsimon

    Thanks for the reply, Jim. I agree that the core issues brought about by technology have not changed. The magnitudes and effects of these changes seem to me to be different, though.

    Consider that it “uncool” high schoolers could be excluded from parties–a theme exemplified in the amazing Rush song “Subdivisions.” (Couldn’t resist.)

    I suppose that it’s easier to join real and virtual groups now, as well as to be kicked out of them. There’s just more going on now than two decades ago. I wonder whether different people and institutions are capable of handling these changes.

    Reply
  3. Jim Harris

    I agree different people and institutions handle changes in technology (as well as other social trends) differently.

    Some try to ignore new tech and trends and must be dragged (kicking and screaming) into it.

    Others embrace the essence of the song “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” by The Offspring, where they scream “heh, heh -do that brand new thing – the world loves wannabes!”

    Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral – but what makes it good or bad is how we choice to use it.

    As with everything in human life – it all comes down to choice – including perhaps the most important choice of all – how you let the world around you affect you and how you affect the world around you.

    Reply

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