Technorelativity

Cory Doctorow: “The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy.”

A nice formulation, but, with all due respect, a wrong one. 
Technology and policy are always intertwined.  Both of them always
matter.  Was the Napster saga “about” peer-to-peer technology, or
the current state of copyright law and the music industry?  Was
the rapid growth of the commercial Internet in the US “about” advances
in data networking or enlightened FCC policies?  The danger lies
in thinking about either element in a vacuum.  Geeks and the
technology industry love to think they can ignore policy battles, which
is just as misguided as policy-makers thinking they can adopt laws
without regard to technological reality. 

“Policy” here has several meanings.  It includes not only laws and
regulations, but the subtler policies imposed by private organizations
and software code.  For
example, social networking services will succeed or fail based on how
well their policies map to latent user expectations, not just their
technology. 

I’m finishing up a fascinating (albeit overly verbose) book, Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time,
by Peter Galiston, that illustrates this point in a completely
different context.  The book situates Albert Einstein’s theory of
special relativity within the 19th-century effort to fix longitude and
simultaneous time between distant clocks.  Relativity was not just
a theory of physics; it had deep roots in both metaphysical philosophy
and practical engineering.  Einstein succeeded because he was able
to join these worlds without being overly nostalgic about any of
them. 

Cory is right about one thing.  Policy battles will be crucial to
the future of the technology industry over the next twenty years. 
If these battles are to be resolved productively, we need to keep
pushing both sides to acknowledge the significance of the other.