Friday, July 03, 2020

Histories of technology: the rape kit and the New York Times

An extraordinary piece of reportage by the New York Times technology writer Pagan Kennedy:  how the rape kit was invented, and who got credit, and how it came to be used.

I took out a digital subscription to the Times when the pandemic started, feeling that we were gonna want all the news we could get, and not feeling too confident these days in either CBC News or the rapidly dwindling Canadian newspapers.

The rape kit story is about how technology is never neutral. The Times these days is a tech story in itself.  I read the Times on a computer screen or an iPad, and the way that newspaper is using digital technology to expand far beyond the possibilities of the printed page has been a revelation.  This story -- with images and graphics going way beyond a mere photo at the top of the column is an example.  But the Times can also do graphs that grow and move through time, with images of where Covid is and has been that no print medium can match.  Or close analysis of events through video clips in ways that do not exist either on TV or in print.  Mind you, it probably does not work half as well on a phone, either.

These innovations suggest "newspapers" have a future, even if the best parts of the future ain't goin to be available on "paper."  Sadly, the Times seems to be the only paper, old media or new media, really taking advantage of the technological opportunity to make a newspaper a whole new form of information medium. Maybe it's the only one that can
afford to -- which means once again tech seems mostly to concentrate power and influence in fewer hands, not more.
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