NYT letter: passion makes new tools powerful
A letter I wrote earlier this year in The New York Times:
The Power of Technology
To the Editor:
Re “Digital Maps Are Giving Scholars the Historical Lay of the Land” (“Humanities 2.0” series, Arts pages, July 26):
What is most compelling about your article on the emerging field of “spatial humanities” is how it inverts the faddish misconception that technology makes information more interesting.
The article’s examples demonstrate that cutting-edge maps are only as valuable as the stories they illustrate. Technology may help make the Gettysburg battlefield and the Salem witch trials more “vivid and personal,” but the tools would be irrelevant if our sense of suffering and injustice had not made these events cultural touchstones.
When activists organize over Twitter, or donors rush online to help candidates or refugees, or citizens use cellphones and maps to report government corruption, they are driven primarily by the urgency of a cause or crisis. Amid the (sometimes) worthwhile debate over whether the Internet can change the world, we should remember that it is personal and political passion that give these tools their power.
New York, July 26, 2011
The writer is Internet director for an oil, gas and mining policy institute.