I normally don’t read any books in Danish, because the chance that the best book on a topic happens to be in English is much greater than the probability that it should be in Danish. Although that’s true most of the time, there is an obvious exception. One is if the book happens to be about Denmark in some way. In that case, it’s more likely that the book also be written in Danish.

But sometimes, a book just happens to fall out to the less probable side: The greatest book on a topic actually happens to be in Danish.

Ole Grünbaum’s Tekno-fetichismen (I trust you non-Danish speakers out there can grok what the title means in English) is such a book.

What it says is something this: We tend to chase technology for technology’s sake, forgetting that it should be driven by humans. We envision an “information society” or a “network society” that we have to hang on to, or catch up to, or connect every citizen to. But then we tend to forget that a network society is not a network of computers, it’s a network of people. It’s all about people. Why do we keep forgetting that?

When you summarize it like that, it sounds banal. It’s not. It’s insightful. He punctures myth after myth, and even though I consciouly try to always be people-driven, always needs-driven in my approach to technology, I make mistakes, too. It just happens, it’s so deceptive.

And the reason it’s so deceptive is that information technology plays to a very basic emotion, a very fundamental trend in our world: The movement towards individualization. Individualization in the positive, constructive sense. That each individual focuses on, and is free to, shape his own life, get the most out of who he or she is. The individual is in control in his or her own life. And that’s the way it should be. Who else should be in control?

This has been a long, slow movement, putting individual before society. But not instead of. People need each other, they always will. So there’ll always be a society, many societies. But societies should serve the individuals. What else are they good for?

This change is sweeping through all areas of life, education, work, love life, family. And the personal computer and the internet are both results of and catalysts for this movement. And that’s why we keep mistaking technology and the real trend. We experience how the personal computer and the internet empower us, and we like that. So we start liking the computer and the internet, and think that they’re responsible for this. And we think “if only we could get more computers and internet into our schools, we students would be more empowered.”

But that’s precisely missing the point. You can introduce new technology all you want, but if the institution is not willing to change, it’s going to go nowhere. Or at least not where you wanted it to go. It’s people, dammit.


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