Here’s a quick typology of tech journalism today: news reporting (“Amazon announces layoffs affecting 18,000 employees”), gadget reviews, company and founder profiles, opinion essays (Zeynep Tufekci et al.), investigative journalism (“The Uber Files”), industry digests (TechCrunch), personal blogs, Substacks, and—if you’re feeling generous—Hacker News comments and GitHub issues. It’s an incomplete catalog, but you get the idea. Yet surveying this landscape reveals a curious lacuna: software criticism, in which a piece of software is subjected to critical analysis.
Let’s be clear. Technology criticism is nothing new. Modern technology criticism, depending on who you ask, goes way back to Lewis Mumford, Herbert Marcuse, Martin Heidegger, and Marshall McLuhan. More recently, I assume you’ve heard of popular books like The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and The Attention Merchants and may even be familiar with technology critics like Jaron Lanier, Evgeny Morozov, and Ellen Ullman. Or to name a few from the academic flank, Fred Turner, Gabriella Coleman, and Sherry Turkle.
But software criticism is not the same as technology criticism. A work of software criticism is to Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” what a New York Times book review is to Virginia Woolf’s “Modern Fiction.” The latter is a more synoptic assessment of the field while the former—in theory, at least, if it existed—is a focused interrogation of a single work.