France’s banning of the use of Facebook and Twitter self-promotion by members of the French media has met with some derision in the US. But it’s really not such a crazy strategy. Both in the US and in the UK, we treat technology as something neutral – it’s just an instrumental tool to achieve an end, and it’s the end that matters, not the way you get there. But we don’t have the same feeling about art and culture, which is considered part of the national character. Not many would criticize the French for wanting to speak the French language to each other in their own country, or eat escargot if they want to, or be proud of Toulouse Lautrec. Yet not wanting to use a technology that doesn’t come from France is considered stupid.
However, art, culture, and technology are what the Ancient Greeks once called techne. They’re all ways of doing things. Just because technology is usually developed from scientific discoveries, which are classified as objective, doesn’t change the fact that it’s as much a way of doing things as a style of painting or a national method of cooking. Technology is culture too. The US has developed the technologies it has for cultural reasons. A different culture, such as France, may develop alternative technological approaches.
So when France wants to ban the promotion of American technological developments like Facebook and Twitter, it’s not reacting crazily to ‘just’ a technology. It’s behaving as it so often has – protecting French cultural identity The attempt may be pretty futile, in the face of the inexorable growth of Facebook and Twitter (although there are signs Facebook interest is waning), but it’s not insane for wanting to slow down the dominance of the American way of doing things.