Perhaps an odd question to ask in an age of Grindr and Tinder, but still: this morning's KQED Forum took it on. Presumably the audio will be online in a while (it's not yet), but one thing struck me about the conversation.

One of the guests, and a couple of the callers, made the argument that smartphones are simply tools, or media like books, and thus pose no special challenge that we haven't already seen before. The argument that technologies are merely tools that are neither good nor bad perhaps was once true, and continues to be true for some technologies. But I think it's not not the case for the technologies discussed here.

One of the speakers drew a parallel between smartphones and sharp knives, and argued that both can be useful or dangerous. I'd argue that smartphones are like knives that have end-user license agreements that say that we agree to share information about our use with KnifeCo, and sensors that monitor how we’re using the knives and what we're cooking, and then shares that information with supermarkets and kitchen supply stores so they can send us targeted advertisement– or perhaps shares the data with insurance companies, who can adjust our premiums depending on how we use the knife.

Further, if they're knives, smartphones are more like badly-balanced, dull knives– that is, they're designed to make it easy for you to cut yourself.

Years ago Langdon Winner wrote an article "Do Artifacts Have Politics," that was a reply to the "technologies are merely tools" claim. He argued that artifacts could reflect the politics and social assumptions of their creators. Networked devices not only reflect those politics, but have the ability to enact and update those politics in a way that more inert technologies did not.