During the past week I have been thinking about what to blog. What part of my experience to share? Too many possible answers. Should I tell you more about my experience in developing products in mobile phone networks, especially mobile payments? Or on how to use social media and other technology for project management. Or should I find some references to support the groups in getting up to speed?
Well I’ll leave my experience and teaching topics for discussion during the project hours and here I’ll discuss what interests me, not what I think would be good for the project. I haven’t read all blogs but I really noticed different levels of reflection on students’ use of technology. And it seems that the people that don’t use technology have thought about it more that those who use it all the time. The ubiquity of technology leads to the situation where not using it requires a much more conscious decision that not using it. Today being tech savvy is often seen as a sign of being up-to-date, modern and young. And of course the marketeers of Apple, Huawei and Samsung do all they can to reinforce that idea.
I would like to encourage people to dig a little bit deeper when they are reflecting on their relation with technology. Many people stay on the level of the debate on gun ownership. On the one hand hand pro gun groups say:” Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” At the same time, statistics clearly show that where there are more guns, more people are killed. Leaving the political discussion aside, this points to the heart of the matter; human beings are not always simply the master of technology, the fact that certain technological options are open to us means that we have to take a position whether we like it or not. Along the same line, is it the social media or the peoples use of it that might drive people to suicide. (How I love technology, I just spend 15 minutes trying to find a video that I saw yesterday on this subject and I can’t find it again…)
But this is nothing new, from the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century on, man’s relation with technology has been an important subject for philosophers and sociologists. Did you know that Karl Marx was a philosopher before he became active in the political and economial field? In his communist manifesto Marx describes how becoming a part of the machinery alienates man from his human nature. Only those with money can afford to let technology work them, while those who can’t are trapped in a downward spiral. His predictions of revolution didn’t come true, and so-called communist governments were often more totalitarian in practice. Nevertheless Marx insights in the difficult relationship between man and technology are still valuable and a starting point for modern thinkers on the matter.
I would like to challenge those of you that think that the current times with the ubiquity of technology such as social media and smart phones is special and has no use for older views of technology. Here is a documentary picturing French Philosopher Jacques Ellul in 1990. I find it amazing how e.g. his analysis of the illusion of technology as a liberating force is so universal and also applies to where we are today. I was especially struck by his remark that technology invites reflexes more than reflection. This is exactly what often irritates me in digital communication; people react quickly, without thinking. Their answers aren’t helpful to me but they can feel satisfied with crossing a task of their list.
I hope to challenge all of you to be more aware of your relation with technology. And those interested in the philosophical side, let me know. I might organise another elective Critical Thinking for Designers or Philosophy of Technology in module 3 or 4.