Don’t Be A Blockhead

Criticism is often understood as something negative but even when ment like that it’s still the best way forward. Anything that is challenged will improve. So even when we’re thrilled we should seek some kind of counteraction.

Corey Pein devotes a few pages of Live Work Work Work Die, a contemptuous description of Silicon Valley, to critiquing the tech press, or what he calls “the industry’s propaganda apparatus.” And as if that hasn’t made his attitude towards it obvious, he goes on to call it, “an interchangeable assortment of sycophantic blogs, gee-whiz podcasts, and thinly veiled advertising supplements, whose producers had neither the aptitude nor the inclination to really dig into their subject.” They are a bunch of blockheads. They are the yes-men who are so dazzled by Google’s voice recognition technology that they don’t question whether we really want these companies listening in on us.

Caution can be found everywhere else, especially after the Cambridge Analytica Scandal. But how likely is it that the people who need these words of caution will read these publications? Not very. Because they’re surrounded by people who want to open doors without using their hands, even if it means receiving an implant. Only when the consumers loudly complain do the tech companies respond to any real criticism.

Illustration by Trouble

Of course, tech companies are not the only ones who need to hear critiques. While we have never criticised as much as we do now, our ability to receive and respond to it has dwindled considerably. In politics, for instance, one side shouts at the other, not to be persuasive, but to show their own side how confident they are in their convictions. In talent shows or competitions on reality television there can be some constructive criticism. Most of the time though, it is either inane niceness, even when the person in question is awful, or it is hyperbolic negativity that is played for the audience. Similarly, we raise our children to believe that they are right, but then neither of us understand each other when we disagree.

Being criticised is unpleasant though. It means you’re wrong or that you made a mistake. It is absolutely necessary because you can be wrong and make mistakes. Sometimes you’re first draft really isn’t very good. In fact, it might be bad. Being criticised is also necessary because it means that you can improve upon or fix what you’ve done. A block of marble might think it if perfect as it is. It is certainly hurt when the sculptor starts chiseling away at it. However, the block of marble needs that pain if it is to become a sculpture. Without the impact of others, the marble remains a blockhead.

This sentiment holds true across the board. People hardly ever get it right the first time, and they even more rarely get it perfect on their own. We idolise theMichelangelos and Berninis who seem to mould their marble without any effort. But it takes a lot of effort to be effortless. It took years of criticism from their masters, but we don’t tend to remember the rubbish pieces they made. We should though, just as we should remember that not all criticism is good criticism. Sometimes a critic has absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Being able to discern the right critiques from the worthless ones is part of being able to receive criticism well.

Recently tech companies have demonstrated that they are able to receive criticism, albeit not from the tech press. Apple stopped distributing Alex Jones’ podcasts. Then Facebook and YouTube followed suit. It is a lessening of these companies’ libertarian attitudes that allowed content built upon lies, such as Alex Jones’ podcasts, to flourish. More importantly, this shift shows that they are not blockheads. Now, whether they become the beautiful sculptures they portray themselves as remains to be seen. They are moving into the uncharted territory of corporate responsibility, and we don’t know what they’ll do. So we should be ready to criticise them if necessary. And we should be ready to receive it when necessary as well.

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