Nicholas Carr, author of the famous Is Google Making Us Stupid essay and the book The Shallows, created a chart reminiscent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs about technological innovation.

His point is to critique things like the sale of Instagram for 1 billion dollars at a point when Instagram still didn’t make any money or contribute to the lower categories of survival, social organization, prosperity, or even leisure.

If I were to offer a critique of this chart it might be that “self-expression” can be difficult to distinguish from true art. An artist needs tools – paint, brushes, canvas, camera, clay, kiln, etc. – to offer a work of beauty to the world, but I’m not sure where those tools go in this chart.

And yet, Carr’s critique is still powerful in that it does seem as though much of what we think of as “technology” today fits into that top category, and while there is certainly much art happening on Instagram, Tumbler, and the rest, it does seem terribly self-directed and self-focused. Our theology of the “flesh” (our self-directedness) also seems to support the idea that we will gravitate towards technologies that help us make that inward turn.

In any case, I’ll certainly have this chart in the back of my mind next time I think about a technology I “need.”


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