> technology: expertise

so many decisions about our machines were made before us, or without us. the decision to fluoridate water is made democratically at best, and even then, for most young americans it was made before they were involved in the debate. so, now they swallow flouride daily because people before their time decided it should be so.

hot tech injection most decisions deemed "public health" concerns are out of the purview of individuals; indeed folks who resist taking vaccines are labelled "immoral."

"experts" make these kinds of meta-level technology decisions for consumers.

food composition provides a good grey area; some examples of the range of user/expert involvement.

on one extreme is food fortification. fortified cereals may brag about their vitamin levels, but folks seldom consider the addition of vitamins in post-production a decisive factor in cereal consumption. the substances placed inside have proven health benefits, and few, if any side effects. the naturalness of the process is not a concern, depending on the market and corresponding ingredients included.

monosodium glutamate is an embattled subject. a common food additive, msg is used to enhance flavour in a wide range of foods, including often cheap or ready made foods like soups and snacks. some people have an adverse reaction to msg and wish it was better advertised, so that they could avoid it more easily. for most people consuming msg is not a conscious choice, but rather for a minority. the people making the chips use msg as a calculated exercise of their expertise - they provide a certain grade of foodstuffs, and their audience appreciates msg on the whole. if msg was a common choice for all citizens, there might be too much complexity in the selection of common foods - do i want low fat? high fat? high fat and msg? msg and low fat? since relatively few folks, or so we believe, suffer from msg consumption, the use of msg is left up to food purveyors, and let the buyer beware.

use of olestra is fairly firmly placed in the hands of the user; perhaps because it is such a new product, perhaps because of the well publicized adverse side effects (such as anal leakage). product warning labels about loose stools on bags of chips and company web sites alert potential consumers to the choice involved in using the product - it is in fact against the law to sell chips without letting people know what oil they were fried in.

boat anchor cartoon expertise may then be nothing more than a coincidence of time. when personal computers were first invented, users built them out of kits; they knew how to fix them. now, computers are distributed and putting together any system requires the help of dozens of distant specialists, few of whom are ever visible.

perhaps when olestra becomes old hat, and other parts of our consumption, clothing and medical services account for anal leakage, it will be used by mcdonald's to fry french fries, and we will pick up olean cooking oil at the store with no second thought. labels present or not, the choice to consume or avoid the fat free fat could disappear.

this disappearance is the site of expertise. it happens when the product enjoys a widespread demand, and consumers lose their awe and respect for the side effects. this often excludes minorities, although in the case of olestra, if it does trim our nation's waistbelt, it could aid our obesest.

if we think of our nation's experts, hidden rows of dilberts administering abstract instructions from guys who don't know the machine language, we might see them simply as high priests, in the spirit of candomble, taking on the ineffable and unprovable omnipresent technology spirit: high priests of technology determinism. these are the folks who argue that morals have no place in technology reasoning, i think they used to be called scientists. now perhaps the highly placed experts are better called technocrats? because they might be said to run our world. the wonks.

que futurismo

futurist has to be the weirdest form of expertise. these folks talk stock of our current technology situation and project out in front of us. what makes these people weird beyond Jules Verne is probably the immense business surrounding them; through speeches, conferences and books, they dispense a modern palatable form of soothsaying. gone are the chicken bones, in is "scenario planning."

i have been such a wonk, flown to foreign countries to tell business people how best to use the internet. my subject of expertise is "humane web publishing" - something like that. i like to think my expertise does not conform to the model because i openly advocate a decentralization of my field.

in general i think more users should be their own experts. is being an expert a way to help that cause? i insist on being my own expert, and at best i hope to lead by example. this decentralization is my sober form of (utopian) idealism.

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