The theme this week is framed by digital culture and digital education often being described as either utopian (creating highly desirable social, educational, or cultural effects) or dystopian (creating extremely negative effects for society, education or culture). Whether digital culture enables democratisation or is anti-democratic in nature is intertwined with this utopian/dystopian view (Hand, M. and B. Sandywell, B. 2002).
There are many strongly utopian and dystopian arguments seeking to explain social, cultural or educational change in primarily technological terms. These arguments are known as ‘technological determinism’.
Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that presumes that a society’s technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values. This perspective says that technology is not a ‘tool’ – it actually drives change and creates society, not the other way around.
There is much literature concerning the concept and history of technological determinism. One definition for technological determinism is: ‘seek[ing] to explain social and historical phenomena in terms of one principal or determining factor’ – technology (Chandler, D. 2002). Chandler points out that as a way of understanding social phenomena, reductionism is often criticised as being overly simplistic. This is especially the case when determinists become ‘technocentric’ – ‘trying to account for almost everything in terms of technology’. He introduces concepts such as ‘reification’; ‘autonomy’; and ‘universalism’, as elements of technological determinism. Importantly for our purposes in this MOOC, he also indicates how we can identify when a determinist position is being taken, even if an author or speaker doesn’t make it explicit:
The assumptions of technological determinism can usually be easily in spotted frequent references to the ‘impact’ of technological ‘revolutions’ which ‘led to’ or ‘brought about’, ‘inevitable’, ‘far reaching’, ‘effects’, or ‘consequences’ or assertions about what ‘will be’ happening ‘sooner than we think’ ‘whether we like it or not’.
I watched five short videos this week each of which was thought provoking.
Bendito Machine http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xiXOigfDb0U is an animation that depicts a tribe worshipping technology that comes from ‘on high’. There are parallels with Moses and Mount Sinai and interesting indications of the imperfections of technology being overlooked whilst rituals, obsession and fixation take over before the next technology emerges, again from ‘on high’ and the previous panacea is consigned to the scrap heap. I was struck by metaphors of Apple products and the behaviours around their products and product launches in particular.
Inbox http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75wNgCo-BQM shows an Indian couple drawn together through the chance purchase of twin paper bags with magical properties that link them and allow artefacts to be morphed from one to the other. It is better than it sounds from my summary, honest. The video is very gentle and shows how interaction with a person can be magical. I found a slightly black side to it as it illustrates that technology allows us to think we know people and have emotional connections with them when in reality we know very little about them.
Thursday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ1z0Zzqg5U&feature=youtu.be is another animation. This was the least engaging for me but I enjoyed it’s theme around humans getting caught between technology and nature. It gives clarity around the impact of nature on society and it shows how humans work around technology. I was left pondering whether technology works for humans or vice versa.
Newmedia http://vimeo.com/33193443# was the shortest video with a rather sinister tone. It was verging on scary yet beautifully captivating and underpinned with a haunting soundtrack. It led me to think about the end of world as we know it and a new world dominated by technology that has supremacy over humanity.
I really enjoyed the animation: The machine is us/ing us (Wesch, M. 2007) and its overview of Web 2.0 in less than five minutes. It is clear that Web 2.0 is a re-defining of the meaning of how we use the web and all the predictions shown and hinted at in 2007 have in fact materialised.
On reflection I am left with the overwhelming sense that it is connection that gives purpose and meaning to life. Digital technologies offer a plethora of opportunities to enable multiple and multifaceted connections to be made and nurtured. Complexity plays a hand in determining how effective and useful ones connections are as the depth and meaning of digital connections are very hard to unravel. For many, it is easier to talk about disconnection than connection, evidenced through shame and the fear of disconnection (Brown, B. 2010).
In the context of e-learning and digital culture, I have tried to consider whether ‘technological determinism’ is evident in each of the resources considered and in the general landscape of digital culture and e-learning.
I am still pondering whether and how each resource considered represents a relationship between utopian/dystopian-ism, technological determinism and a its stance towards issues of democracy, access and resistance.
I conclude, in an overtly cowardly manner, acknowledging my vulnerability in this arena: there is no black and white. It is complicated…
Brown, B. (2010) The power of vulnerability, TedX Talks [WWW resource] http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html) [accessed 31 January 2013]
Chandler, D. (1995): ‘Technological or Media Determinism’ [WWW document] URL http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/tecdet/tecdet.html [accessed 31 January 2013]
Hand, M. and B. Sandywell. (2002) E-topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratizing and de-democratizing logics of the internet, or, toward a critique of the new technological fetishism. Theory, Culture & Society 19, no. 1-2: 197-225. (pp.205-6)
Wesch,M. (2007) ‘The machine is us/ing us’, [WWW resource] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g&list=PL5kmJQs4cz-eR9IXjpj8VL9Vb1uldYgf3&index=13 [accessed 31 January 2013]