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Posts Tagged ‘technological determinism

The video below reminded me of one of the core messages of the Pessimists Archive/Build For Tomorrow podcast — technology backlash (tech lash) is often driven by technological determinism and ignorance of history.

Video source

This Economist video started with a self critique of the opening question: Should we fear technology? It rightly pointed out that the problem is not technology, it is our relationship with technology.

One relationship is our failure to learn from how people reacted to emerging technologies in the past. We fear technology because we do not understand it, choose not to understand it, and attribute systemic ills to it.

If we had a less deterministic mindset, we would learn from history. We might rise above such lessons and conclude that how we Design, Use, Manage, and Revise technology are counters to ignorance and fear. Yes, I am suggesting that we need DUMR to craft smart responses to tech lash.

Video source

If you have an edtech background, you might watch Hank Green’s video and arrive at the conclusion that we should not be technologically deterministic with social media.

This means not blaming a platform like Twitter for all ills that we see there. Twitter alone is not responsible for hate, racism, or disinformation that you might find there. Twitter as a company is responsible for algorithms and policies that might enable such content to bloom there, but that is only half the story. If we only read that half and blame Twitter, we are technologically deterministic.

The other half of the story is us. We use Twitter to communicate and share. Twitter can not only amplify what we say, it also reveals who we are. If some among us are racist, the amplified messages might be about hate. We make Twitter what it is by shaping it around ourselves. If we understand that, we are not technologically deterministic. We take responsibility; we do not simply shift it.

With a non-deterministic mindset, Green suggested that we use Twitter for good. If there is too much noise, we can choose to ignore the din and create more signal instead. If there is too much hate, we can show care. Just think of Twitter this way: It is fertile soil, but we hold the seeds or seedlings. We reap what we sow.

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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