📓 Technology is a System

Responding to yet another school shooting, Audrey Watters pushes back on those who argue that guns are not ‘ed-tech’. Instead she argues that what we define as ‘technology’ is the problem. She provides a quote from Ursula Franklin’s 1989 CBC Massey Lectures that captures this thinking:

Technology is not the sum of the artefacts, of the wheels and gears, of the rails and electronic transmitters. Technology is a system. It entails far more than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset.

Watters explains that this includes many elements within schools and should not be merely reduced to ‘computers’. In a second post, she explains that:

“Hardening schools” is an education technology endeavor, whether or not we take seriously anyone’s suggestions about giving teachers guns. For now, “hardening schools” explicitly calls for hardware like those items listed by Governor Scott: metal detectors and bulletproof windows, as well as surveillance cameras and various sensors that can detect gunfire. It also implies software – social media monitoring and predictive analytics tools, for example, that claim they can identify students “at risk” of violence or political extremism.

Coming at this problem from a different perspective, Genevieve Bell responded to questions of data and ‘neutrality’ in the Q&A associated with her Boyer Lectures. Given the example of the supposed innocence of a train timetable, she explained how Amazon use variables such as timetables to continually adjust the price of goods.

Discussing Game of Thrones, Zeynep Tufekci explains how technology is more than a story about a group of individuals:

That’s a story much bigger than Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Schmidt, Sandberg, Brin who-have-you. It’s also a story of Wall Street and increasing financialization of the world; it’s a story of what people are calling neoliberalism that’s been underway for decades. It is also a technical story: of machine learning and data surveillance, and our current inability deal with the implications of the whole technological stack as it is composed: hardware firmware mostly manufactured in China. Software everywhere that I’ve previously compared to building skyscrapers on swampy land. Our fundamentally insecure designs. Perhaps, more importantly our lack of functioning, sustainable alternatives that respect us, rather than act as extensions of their true owners.source

Inspired by Neil Postman, David Truss argues that technology changes everything.

Technology doesn’t just change our relationship to the tool, it changes the relationship to our environment.

Responding to the The Social Dilemma, Niall Docherty argues that we will never understand the problem until we understand technology as a set of relations.

it is necessary to re-frame social media as something more than a mere “tool”. Rather than simply leave it to former tech industry insiders to spell out the ills of social media in documentaries like The Social Dilemma, we must engage with thinkers from a diverse range of backgrounds to look to the historical conditions of social media’s origins, while always questioning the economics and cultural politics of its global dissemination.  We must personally examine how our own thoughts and actions are subtly shaped by social media’s design, while taking time to listen to marginalized individuals and communities who are impacted the most by the violence produced through social media today. And by seeing technology as a relation, by sharing responsibility in this way, we lift the burden of fixing the problem from the individual user alone, and discard the moralizing discourses such a burden brings.

Yuk Hui suggests that rather than technology is a system that we are in a system which technology is a part of.

The unilateral globalization that has come to an end is being succeeded by the competition of technological acceleration and the allures of war, technological singularity, and transhumanist (pipe) dreams. The Anthropocene is a global axis of time and synchronization that is sustained by this view of technological progress towards the singularity. To reopen the question of technology is to refuse this homogeneous technological future that is presented to us as the only option.