Obsolescence Anxiety

The thing that struck me the most about the Feenberg (1989) and Herring (2004) papers was how so out-of-date they were; Herring by a mere three years! It is also indicative of the “instant” and “throw away” culture that we live in.

This rapid (rabid sic) technological obsolescence is an anathema. Things are being built to be broken; a state of alienation (Marx, 1844) is being forged. It was MySpace last year, now it Facebook this year; so what’s going to be the “big idea” for next year?

Herring (2004) makes this rather startling prediction:

Yet I advance this prediction for the next five years: increasing technological integration, combined with assimilation of day-to-day uses and the corresponding need to ensure the trustworthiness of one’s interlocutors, will continue to make the internet a simpler, safer, and – for better or for worse – less fascinating communication environment. If this prediction proves true, CMC researchers would do well to take a step back from the parade of passing technologies and consider more deeply the question of what determines people’s use of mediated communication. In addition to technological determinism, the effects of time, familiarity, and mass popularization would need to be theorized and investigated

Such a prediction was made well before the so-called Web 2.0 explosion; but the writing was already on the (Facebook) wall. Herring fools herself into thinking that CMC will make a “safer … communications environment“. Whilst most online services have provided tools to help improve privacy and protect your identity, together with the US Government’s Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 to protect young or at-risk children from the clutches of “digital predators“. Most individuals are blissfully unaware of the dangers that lurk in the digital recesses of cyberspace; most are ignorant of the implications of disclosing too much information about themselves.

Somewhere in the midst of the flotsam and jetsam of technological obsolescence, we need to be educating people about protecting themselves online and what the reprocussions are if they don’t!


Feenberg, A., (1989). The written world: On the the theory and practice of computer conferencing. In: Mason, R. & Kaye, A. (eds.). Mindweave: communication, computers and distance learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press. pp. 22-39.

Herring, S., (2004). Slouching towards the ordinary: current trends in computer-mediated communication. New Media & Society, 6(1), 26-36.