Techno conservatism

It’s bleak and rainy outside. I woke up earlier than usual this morning, and even before I saw what it looked like outside, my insides matched. So it’s the perfect day to write a rage piece against the bewildering behavior of what I can only describe as techno-conservatism, whose followers seem to absolutely loathe any sort of movement or innovation in the space. Have you seen the comment threads in Hacker News on articles about Signal’s new crypto payments feature? Every single one of them a lambast. Common phrases include scam, pump and dump, no one asked for this, why not use Stripe, why, and an endless barrage of linguistically creative of ways to block the movement of a product towards any particular future.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Perhaps crypto is a heated topic, but almost any sort of groundbreaking technology or innovation in a fast-moving space receives the same treatment. I mention HN because their commenters are usually the most rational. So if on HN comments have devolved into reddit quality, then I fear looking at what’s become of reddit.

But let me try not raging against their rage and instead interpret events from their vantage. At this point I’ve come to understand there is no way this is about the particulars. No matter the topic, you will see the same breed of comments and commenters. And the dissent is always louder than the support—people in favor of, say, cryptocurrencies will be a lot less violent about their support, than dissenters about their condemnation. The single safest thing you could do if you support something controversial is probably keep to yourself. So rationalists are overrun on comment threads, and techno-conservatists thrive.

I think rather than focusing on the particulars, we can break this down into something much simpler: there are two camps of people. Those who believe the world is progressing towards something worse. And those who believe the world is progressing towards something better. Those in the “worse” camp will likely see any event in any space as a sign of the impending doom, and attack it mercilessly like a runaway immune system. And those in the “better” camp can see any event as a sign of the positive future to come.

Crypto is an excellent divider, slicing these groups sharply in the middle. On the impending doom side, crypto is a sign of energy waste, get rich quick schemes, techno-elitism, scams, and a thousand other loosely related consequences. At this point techno-conservatists have gotten so good at rational gymnastics and linguistics that crypto can be linked to almost any major issue. On the better future side, crypto is a sign of financial liberation, decreased power of government, decentralization of currency, and a thousand other tightly related consequences. Techno-progressivists have also gotten so good at the language game that almost any issue can seemingly be solved with crypto—which you believe to be true, as I probably do, if you're on the bright side.

So it’s made me feel a little better to understand that the event absolutely does not matter. It could be Signal adding crypto payments or it could be Facebook creating a cryptocurrency or it could be most anything of the format “X company does Y crypto,” and you will immediately trigger the two camps in their respective manner. The techno-conservatists will put on their thinking glasses and write a compelling thesis on why this move will likely only inch us one step closer towards doom, and the techno-progressivists will, in lower fearful quantities, write their thesis on why this move should be applauded and how it brings us one step closer towards a brighter future.

The techno-conservatist knee-jerk reaction to any innovation they don’t understand or is too sudden and abrupt, and that perhaps other people are getting rich off is, who needs this? Why this thing and not this other preexisting thing? Can we slow down a bit? I mean we’re ignoring all these other million factors. People still don’t have clean drinking water and you want to write more crypto code? In essence: Can we just keep everything as-is for the next 1000 years, because I’m sort of worn out keeping up with all this stuff.

The techno-progressivist knee-jerk reaction to any innovation they don’t understand and others are getting rich off is likely: what’s wrong with me? Why have I overlooked this? Damn, there are people smarter than me who are on top of these things while I’m here watching TikTok? Wait, Moxie, the genius cryptographer behind Signal's and WhatsApp’s encryption is working on this? What a goddamned legend. I’m an absolute idiot for not understanding this or looking into it sooner.

Funnily enough, there’s actually a mathematical way to measure just how idiotic you are. It’s called the price of Bitcoin. If you refuse to touch crypto with a twelve foot pole, you are infinitely idiotic, otherwise your level of idiocy is measured by how high a price you paid for being late. I say this mostly humorously and self-reflectively. In some technologies I am indeed an idiot and have looked into them far later than others. But I suppose that’s key in the distinction between techno-conservatists and techno-progressivists: allowing yourself to be ok with being an idiot. I mean likely you are. There’s no way any one person is not infinitely idiotic with regards to anything they’re not paying attention to. Forgive yourself, accept yourself, and yield to others’ less relative idiocy in a space.

Just yield, man.


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