Democratization of Technology

This is a term I’ve used for a while now and never really defined.  It is probably worth discussing as it has come to form an important part of my thinking.

Starting with democracy in its ancient Greek meaning of popular government, or government by the people – δῆμος (dêmos), “people” and Κράτος  (krátos), “rule, strength”.  And, it is worth noting, that in those days people meant citizens or free men, not women or slaves.

The notion that citizens of the internet, or netizens (sometimes referred to as users), should determine their own future has been substantially excluded from the domain of technology until very recently.  This is particularly true with regards to both software and *hardware.

In relation to software this exclusion has largely been due to the highly technical nature of skills required to create software artifacts.  But with the advent of web 2.0 and social computing the nexus between technical skills in software development and the creation of useful software artifacts has been broken. It is no longer necessary to find an adept of the art of software to create online applications.

It is the breaking of this nexus between technical knowledge and the creation of software that enables the democratization of technology. Now ordinary people who can read and use some basic equipment (like a keyboard, mouse and a web browser)  can create and share software artifacts.  The simplicity of the act of creation in a web 2.0 world means that citizens of the web can create their own artifacts now.

In the recent past to create similar kinds of software it was necessary to master a programming or scripting language and, in addition,  learn how to use tools like FTP and a web server. Now this technology is still required to create and share software artifacts but the explicit use of these things is abstracted from the creator’s gaze.

Thus we are seeing online applications becoming utilities, much as a light switch it for most of us.  We press the light switches in our homes and offices without much thought, except for an expectation that light will appear.  Most of us do not understand how it happens. We don’t know or care about the breakers and switches that make it work, nor do we care that it is single phase power of a certain voltage.  We simply expect it to work and are mildly annoyed when it does not work.

This kind of utility perspective is increasingly common for online applications.  And it is a very big shift from the realm of the expert (who still exists behind the scenes) to the ordinary person using it in everyday ways. The shift of software is from that of an art to an engineering based utility.

This shift has important implications for the technically skilled people who enable the abstraction of the ordinary user away from the technical complexity.

More on this later …

* Note: For the purposes of this discussion consideration of hardware has been put aside.

Author: Kate Carruthers

Sometimes I feel like being a revolutionary cat.

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