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Technology as philosophy

Technology is not neutral. We don’t apply it to our teaching in a “plug in and use” approach. Technology is philosophy. Tools embed views and influence action. Google permits access to information (when not blocked). Blogs and wikis permit openness and information sharing. It’s not much of a surprise then that we see the creators and advocates of emerging technologies to desire to exert their influence into traditional establishments and problems. I’m starting to see the field of technology as a quasi-religious system based on assumptions of progress, constant change, individualism, distrust/disdain for established structures of society, and hope for an every expanding brighter future. As any system of this nature, the will to power is strong. The desire to re-create society on the premise that drives the technology field forward is natural. In Iraq with Web 2.0 Luminaries:

The idea is to use the brains of this small collective to give ideas to Iraqi government officials, companies and users that will help it rebuild. Iraq is short on the mojo that widespread internet can bring and the fast-track economic jolt that entrepreneurs feed on. Who knows that stuff better than a contingent of internet goombahs heavy on the Google juice and includes the guy who thought up Twitter?

When stories like this appear, it should cause educators to stop spouting silly things like “technology is neutral”. Technology is a philosophy and we MUST understand what it embodies, discuss its future impact, and explore what we are becoming.

10 Comments

  1. Max Woodtli wrote:

    As long as we only use technologies – as a tool – we believe in the simple cut between subjectivity and objectivity. Therefore human beings are just the users of technology and in the use of them they remain unchanged in their own structural definition.

    Therefore the anthropological structure of human beings like autonomy and identity doesn’t change in being involved in using technology.

    “The logic of our western industrial corporate society (with limited liability) is unidirectional, deductive, competitive and hierarchical, and the keystones of its paradigm are the claim of objectivity and the theory of types, which exclude in principle the autonomy of paradox and of the individual. In the scientific revolution that we know create and experience, however, we perceive a shift from causal unidirectional to mutualistic systemic thinking, from a preoccupation with the properties
    of the observed to the study of the properties of the observer.”
    (Heinz von Foerster)

    But we are not forced to restrict our life to dichotomic istinctions as the logocentric tradition and its “digitalism” tries to teach us:

    - cultural pessimism versus euphoria of technology
    - good media versus bad media
    - virtual versus non virtual
    and so on

    “We want to be free enough to choose which system of order we want to play the game of life and we want to be free to play the double play of simultaneity of both.” (Kaehr, 1998)

    Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  2. Ken Allan wrote:

    Kia ora George.

    Thank you for these ideas on the usage of technology today.

    It’s not as if technology has just arrived or just evolved. It has been with humankind since the first use of any tool, obviously – like fire has. Fire can be very sophisticated and by a stretch of the imagination its many and various manifestations can be seen to be a technology. Is fire philosophy too? Or is it just part of the wider philosophy?

    Philosophy is a study. Its basis is in critical, generally systematic approaches and it relies on reasoned argument.

    Technology is tools. Technology is not a study in itself though there are several philosophies on the use of technology. Further, it has no associated basis in reasoned argument.

    I wonder at your posit that ‘technology is philosophy’, and I would be interested in your opinion on what I put here.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  3. I think you’re splitting hairs, Ken. A piece of technology can only be called a tool because human beings see it as a tool. Imagine a world that never saw a human but with hammers, scissors and laptops spontaneously appearing–growing on trees or something. Or think of a rock you might pick up to hammer in a tent peg. Was it a tool before you picked it up? The knife you use to split a hair is a meaningless object without you there to wield it.

    Have a read of Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology? He makes a profound investigation of our relationship to technology and a convincing argument that technology is not neutral. The problem for Heidegger is not the existence of technology or the forms it takes, but our orientation to it. (And he makes a typically obtuse investigation: this guide is helpful.

    But the point here is that technology is not tools; it’s human activity. And Siemens is right: We (educators) need to understand that this discussion of technology in schools is about the discussion of human activity–that’s a philosophical study, I’d say.

    This Thursday and Friday I’ll be at the Canadian Association of Independent Schools Best Practices Conference in Montreal presenting sitting on a panel and presenting a talk on the very idea Siemens presents here: Borrowing from Heidegger, I’m arguing that the essence of Web 2.0 is by no means anything technological. And so schools that spend their time and energy fretting over what tools to use, instead of exploring how the technology might change the game, have already taken themselves out of the play.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  4. dan phillips wrote:

    Technology is a word to describe a tool that we use to engage with people and the world around us. One good description of technology is any tool invented after we were born. Of course technology isn’t neutral. Tools can be used in good ways or in bad ways. Technologies can change people’s behaviours and change the physical environments in which we live, but this happens gradually over time as the technology becomes more pervasive. A new technology can seem to be good and turn out to be bad. A technology that at first seems bad can become good as it pervades the world. Hope that’s useful

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 3:42 am | Permalink
  5. Frank Carver wrote:

    Hmm. To state baldly that “technology is philosophy” presents an extreme (not to say one-sided) viewpoint. I understand that the intention is to provoke discussion, but still…

    I agree that “technology is not neutral” and has a philosophical aspect. It would be fair, I think, to claim that technology and philosophy overlap. But then so do technology and physics, technology and math, technology and language, etc. Technology is not a clearly delineated, orthogonal, subject area.

    You state that:

    “I’m starting to see the field of technology as a quasi-religious system based on assumptions of progress, constant change, individualism, distrust/disdain for established structures of society, and hope for an every expanding brighter future”

    It is important to place things in context. “Technology” does not spring, fully formed into common use directly from philosophy. What we commonly consider as technology is a result of chaotic interaction between problems, solutions, businesses, markets, fashions and history. For every household name or popular craze there are thousands of failures or struggling, minor, successes.

    From this viewpoint it might be equally tempting to state “technology is economics”, but my point is that that would be just as naive as to claim that “technology is philosophy”.

    In an educational context, the contemplation of what technology “is” certainly seems to qualify as philosophy, but that does not imply to me that technology is (only) philosophy. I agree with commenter Brad Ovenell-Carter when he states

    “schools that spend their time and energy fretting over what tools to use, instead of exploring how the technology might change the game, have already taken themselves out of the play.”

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink
  6. mrsdurff wrote:

    @Brad,”…essence of Web 2.0 is by no means anything technological. And so schools that spend their time and energy fretting over what tools to use, instead of exploring how the technology might change the game, have already taken themselves out of the play” is the most thought provoking statement!
    I would build on that to proclaim the the essence of Web 2.0 is one’s worldview, or philosophy. One uses technology according to one’s worldview in the field one finds oneself, whether that be business, marine biology, medicine, or education.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  7. Chris Lott wrote:

    I think there are two important misperceptions to deal with. One, discussed in some comments above, is discriminating between the philosophical construct of “technology” and the tools. Which is important in combating the pernicious spectre of technological determinism, which is itself a basic foodstuff sustaining visions of inevitable “progress” and technological utopianism that serve only to suppress creative and effective and transformative change.

    I’ve been harping about this for years.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  8. Ken Allan wrote:

    Kia ora Brad!

    Ah! The chicken and the egg. You can’t hatch me on that one. You can’t hatch me on postmodernism either. Heidegger was a postmodernist. For him there was no real past. It’s questionable if there was any ‘real’ reality. So it’s not surprising, by association, you mention that technology is not tools.

    The postmodernist can invent anything, any concept and reinvent the meaning for any word, including technology, for the past is always conveniently eschewed.

    Unfortunately their communicative powers bring us back to the chicken and egg. They look in on themselves like the cat licking its butt, and end up disappearing along a black hole to nowhere.

    Tools are technology.

    To believe that we could possibly centre our argument on scissors growing on trees illustrates the ridiculousness of it all, for it is so far removed from reality it begs the question about tools in the first place.

    No I don’t think I’m splitting hairs. Your tree-grown scissors might have a better chance :-)

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 4:51 am | Permalink
  9. Hi Ken Allen,

    Post-modernism and I are not friends either. But you don’t have to be sympathetic to that way of thinking to appreciate Heiddegger. He’s at least provocative. The point of reading his essay is not to convince ourselves that he’s right, but to get us to consider points of view which we might not otherwise have considered.

    Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 6:54 am | Permalink
  10. Ken Allan wrote:

    @Brad- touchez!

    Monday, May 18, 2009 at 5:03 am | Permalink

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  1. [...] I’m borrowing from Martin Heidegger here. In his essay, The Question Concerning Technology, he says that our anxieties around technology is not so much the existence of technology itself or the forms it takes, but rather our orientation to technology. Or, as the University of Manitoba’s George Siemens says, technology is not neutral. [...]