Technoschmerz, according to this Boston Globe article on neologisms, means,
“…the emotional pain (schmerz comes from a German word meaning “pain”) caused by difficult interactions with electronic gadgets or unhelpful websites. If you’ve ever felt your cellphone was out to get you, you’ve suffered from technoschmerz.”
This word is long overdue. (Thank you, Kate Greene, for the coinage.) I expect to use it often. If I take my personal experiences with digital technologies (and in running a web design company, I have plenty) and multiply these by the number of people in the world with dependent connections to contemporary digital gadgets, I can only imagine the amount of confusion, delay, errors, and the resulting stress from wrestling with technologies that keep changing, or don’t work intuitively or correctly must be global and massive. Has anyone analyzed the overall cost of this? I wonder what it would amount to when weighed against the overall benefits…
Bruce Sterling's chart of technological adaptation
Bruce Sterling In his book Shaping Things (one of my all-time favorite books, btw) examines the evolving interplay between objects and people. He divides the technosocial realm into several epochs, beginning with ARTIFACTS, which are hand-made, muscle-powered objects, such as spears. Then moving to MACHINES, which are artifacts with moving parts that rely on a non-human, non-animal power source, and require an infrastructure of engineering, distribution, and finance. Think steam engines. Next up is PRODUCTS, and they are mass-produced, non-artisinal, widely distributed, and operate over continental economies of scale. Think blenders. Since 1989 we have been in the age of GIZMOS, according to Sterling. Gizmos are
“…highly unstable, user-alterable multi-featured objects, commonly programmable, with a brief lifespan. Gizmos offer functionality so plentiful that it is cheaper to import features into the object than it is to simplify it. Gizmos are commonly linked to network service providers; they are not stand-alone objects but interfaces.
Unlike artifacts, machines and products, gizmos have enough functionally to actively nag people. Their deployment demands extensive, sustained, interaction, upgrades, grooming, plug-ins, plug-outs, unsought messages, security threats,…
Sterling goes on to argue that we are moving into the epoch of SPIMES, which are already among us in primitive forms such as the RFID tag. But that’s a topic for another post. For now, GIZMOS are enough to deal with. And according to Sterling, we have long passed the Line of No Return on them. This is the moment when a revolutionary technology becomes the status quo, and a culture has become so reliant that it cannot voluntarily return to the previous technosocial condition, at least not without social collapse.
And dependent we are. Not just on the objects, but the networks that connect them. IMAP email that shows up at home, work, on my iPad, on my iPhone. Dropbox files that do the same. Writeroom for synched notes, BaseCamp for synched project management, FreshBooks for synched book-keeping. Compared with how I managed files and communications a mere two or three years ago, a revolution has taken place in my personal life, and I know it’s been mirrored in the lives of many.
Infographic by Randy Krum, coolinfographics.com
We are firmly in the age of the GIZMO. Thus I pledge allegiance to the new overlords, and I interact, upgrade, groom, and protect them from security threats whenever they demand it. Because if I fail to nurture these overlords, I become invisible and mute to anyone not standing directly in front of me!