Saturday, July 4, 2009

Technology and Democracy

I have made it known that I have an emerging understanding of philosophy, because of this I have been unhurriedly reading through Gadamer’s “Truth and Method” as well as Andrew Feenberg’s “Questioning Technology”. I have found myself taking many side trips in order to give myself a more knowledgeable position to take all of this in. One thing I do understand well now is that we live in the world not as independently as we might think. The voices of those who came before us hum quietly almost unheard to many. We call this tradition and if we are not mindful we are in danger of just singing the same song through time with no thought of the consequence. Feenberg points out a rather pessimistic tradition of technology (p. 75). The thinking that humans have simply become cogs in their own machinery. He highlights for me the term, Technocracy. A social system viewing technology as a neutral instrument outside of our control, leaving no room for democracy or social interaction.
I have recently spent time exploring the 20th century’s use of technology as a read only culture in the early days of my blogging (mind map ). Yes it is complicated as you can see.

Feenberg brings to light Max Weber and the theory of rationalization, a process whereby social actions and interactions became concerned with efficiency and how it can be measured quantifiably rather than how effects us as people or how we feel about it emotionally. It seems to me that in the modern world of the 20th century people with this thinking lost the connection we had to each other as humans. Gadamer also reminds us that as humans we need to find gaps in our speaking in order to listen to each other. I have spent time thinking about this last fall. You can find this work on my webpage. For me that is the notion of a read-write culture, a culture in dialogue with each other. As Feenberg puts it we need to replace this notion with a, “Democratic” rationalization. In the read only culture that Max Weber was describing we put our faith in progress. Technology is only considered social through the purpose is serves and this would depend on ones personal perception of the purpose. This deterministic view holds that if need be we adjust ourselves to the structure of technology not the other way around (p. 77). Ouch I feel the pinch!

Constructivism argues a different point. We have a choice here; we can look differently at efficiency. When we look at the toys that technology has provided for us rather than saying how can I adapt to this toy and make it work for me? Another way is to look upon this more democratically as a choice between alternatives. To look for a fit between devices and the personal interests and needs a user may have and we as users do definitely shape the design process (p.79). Look at the “I’m a Mac”, “I’m a PC” thing. Cute advertising yes but it demonstrates this point. Two different devices with different design histories shaped by different needs. Good designers respond the feedback of the users. Feenberg tells us that technological determinism ignores this social complexity by focusing in on a cross-section of objects in our life. Gadamer may say this sort of clarity is not enough for living knowledge.
This sort of view has led us to look at dilemmas in a rather simplistic dualistic manner in the form of trade offs. It’s the red vs. blue situation. If we have more of red then we have less of blue.

One altered notion is Connectivism. George Siemens describes it as: "the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing" In our connected world we now have opportunities to think in a more nebulous way.
Feenberg’s writing fills me with hope. He suggests that technology can be more than a means to an end; we can look upon it as a variety of possibilities linked together. We do have choices.

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