Thursday, September 9, 2010

Philosophy of Technology: Tool?

I have just received my candidacy questions. The following is my first attempt to write about what my philosophy of technology is in response to one of them. Have you taken the time to write about yours yet? I hope this might get you thinking:
My task today is to construct my own story of understanding and share it with you in the hopes that it might echo with your own story of experience. To do this as Ihde (2004) explains, we need to not just ‘study’ philosophy but to also ‘do’ philosophy. It is more than compiling facts into bits and pieces. We need to think deeply and organize these bits critically for ourselves, then we need to talk to each other so we can reorganize the new bits.
So as I begin to unpack the philosophy of technology as it is packaged for me, at first I see a paradox or a double edge sword. It is common to hear people speak of hope and possibilities with technology while others speak of danger and warnings. The good or bad uses of technology. As John Dewey points out, “Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites” (1938, p. 17). Yet initially most of us see technology as a neutral tool to extend human capacity. Simplistically we believe that it is a means to end human suffering. If the technology isn’t working it is because we need to get better at using it. We should not question the technocrats because they know more than us.
I wonder If I am going to discuss technology from the standpoint of a tool I need to go deeper into my philosophy of technology, my philosophy of teaching and learning, as well as my philosophy of educational technology.
Before I began my doctoral studies I never thought much about philosophy, let alone my philosophy of technology. Even with a masters degree in Educational Technology I largely took for granted my philosophy of all things technological. My thinking at the time was that philosophy was a subject, something people paid money to study at university. My philosophy of technology was something either invisible or just out of focus for me. I never felt capable or even invited to do so nor did I have a place to do it.
To begin, is technology in the classroom a tool? Is it an applied science? Is it a system of correlated means and ends? For that matter can we call it a place? At first glance the term tool implies a neutrality. Meaning that technology is simply a human invention that may be used in good or bad ways. But who must take responsibility in how it is used, maintained, and repaired when broken? Are the tools of technology really separate from us and what we value? Using and choosing technology for a purpose is a specific value choice in itself is it not. I do not believe we can understand technology by looking at how it functions.
If it is an applied science then it is a human activity. This might also indicate a neutrality. Is technology something we go out and do?
If it is a system then we can think of it as a pattern. Patterns do not exist in isolation. Hardware can hardly function without it’s human, and humans must learn how to operate the hardware. Are people and their technology not connected in a system somehow? Do we learn from technology, learn with technology or learn in technology? What is it we mean when we say as teachers we want to create a learning environment?
Perhaps it is a little of all of these things, the use of technology given the choice of how to use it becomes more than just a means ‘to’ an end. Rather it becomes a means through which we might relate and participate with the world. I write this blog you might respond. In this case technology may be thought of as a place. Feenberg (1999) and Franklin (1999) have used the metaphor of a house, “The house is not a devise but an extremely rich and meaningful life environment” (p. xi). In our houses we have many tools that we use to help us enjoy life and connect to each other. The tools of technology have built a structure around us. He continues, “That the real world of technology is a network, not a system, but a network that encompasses a system within it” (2008, p. 22).
I believe philosophy is a personal way of thinking about and acting in the world that we wonder about. For that matter it is something we are all capable of doing to some extent. I think that it is important the I participant with my philosophy as I come to understand it, as nothing really seems to become visible until we take the time to intentionally interact with it. I am drawn to this wonder in the hope of creating wisdom. So for this purpose I wish to use the expression “go native”(Ihde, 2004, p. 91) with my philosophy of technology to become an informed participant in a more global (wide angle) discussion of it.
I believe all teachers have a philosophy of technology but not many have taken the time or been given the space to think deeply about how and why they use technology in their classrooms and personal life. Often they are told they just have to. It shows up in how they allow their students to interact with technology and the language they use.
More will follow in the coming days...

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY, USA: Kappa Delta Pi.

Dusek, V. (2006). Philosophy of technology: An introduction. London: Blackwell. Retrieved from

Feist, R., Beauvais, C., & Shukla, R. (2010). Technology and the changing face of humanity. Ottawa, Ontario: University of Ottawa Press.

Franklin, U. M. (1999). The real world of technology. CBC Massey Lectures (2004th ed.). Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.

Ihde, D. (2004). Philosophy of technology. In P. Kemp (Ed.), World and Worldhood (pp. 91-108). Printed in the Netherlands: Springer.