Another dot in the blogosphere?

Predicting context

Posted on: August 1, 2020

The latest installment from the Pessimists Archive podcast was What Will We Fear Next?

At first face value, the title seemed to be about predicting a new technology with which we will likely place old fears on. But if you listen till at least the 38-minute mark, you will hear the podcast host say this:

Even if we can predict the technology, we can’t predict the context in which it will be experienced or the needs it will fulfil or the expectations that it will meet or shift.

This is a reminder to anyone who makes or reads predictions about the future — making projections about tools is relatively easy, doing the same about contextual use is not. This is why most predictions fail to materialise on time.

The episode might also have been the first to visit the concept of technological determinism. Shortly before the quote, the host described technological determinism as a one-way street upon which technologies change us. Since people fear change, they fear technologies because they are threats to established ways of doing things.

But I am reminded of one of my favourite quotations:

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

We designed our tools and they are used in expected and unexpected ways. The outcomes of use are socio-technologically determined. This is why one successful classroom use of a technology does not guarantee equal success elsewhere. Context matters and that context is determined by many factors, e.g., students, teachers, support, environments, professional development, etc.

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