I’ve read this phrase on a couple of blogs recently in reference to people who complain about new designs to services, e.g. Google Instant, New Twitter etc.
I’m very familiar at the moment with irrational hatred of any change. I live with a 2 year old. Like many toddlers, she thinks that if you do something once it is a tradition, if you do it twice it is a religious ritual that must always be done in exactly the same way. When you find yourself agreeing to throw out a bowl of cereal because the wrong person took the milk out of the fridge you know you’re in real “I fear change” territory.
There is a particular narrative of recent technological change (this blog post by Jeremy Keith in opposition to the Digital Economy Act is a pretty good exemplar) that sees change as progress and fear of change as irrational conservatism. And to a large extent the narrative holds true.
Keith quotes from John Philip Sousa on sound recording technology:
These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country… We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.
Which is funny. But Sousa wasn’t entirely wrong, was he? Hannah Donovan gave a wonderful talk/Jam Session at dConstruct where she talked about the deleterious effect recorded music had on improvisation. Live, participatory, spontaneous performance did give way for almost a century to the primacy of recorded music. We almost lost our tail there for a second…
I suppose Keith’s point is that it is the fear that is silly. Not that change is always good. But that approaching it with fear prevents us from seeing it clearly. Of course, approaching it with excitement has the same effect. People (like me, a lot of the time) who are very excited about new things, often can’t really see what’s really good about them, never mind what’s bad.
I do worry a little though that continuity is underrated at the moment. There seems to be a cultural bias in favour of rapid change and a lack of patience with expectations that things continue in the same way for a while. Learning how to be constantly adapting to fast-paced change must affect how we behave and how we think of ourselves in the world. I’m far more interested in how this has changed us than whether Google/the Internet/mobiles phones are making us stupid (we were stupid already, let’s face it.)
Culture exists in institutions – old, venerable buildings that have continuously housed the same organisation for centuries, command a respect from us that speaks to a need for continuity. It is easy now to organise rapidly and temporarily, but that shouldn’t mean that we allow important institutions to be dismantled just because they are old. The same blindness that prevented people from seeing how video tapes would transform the film industry also prevents people from seeing why libraries are still important even when there are Kindles. Keeping good stuff around is as important for shaping a good future as making room for the new stuff.