Evolution of Technology (TEC 154 2014S) : Readings

Readings from Teich, Group 2


Marx, Leo (1987). Does Improved Technology Mean Progress? [Teich 10th, ch 1, pp. 1-12]

Pool, Robert (1997). How Society Shapes Technology. [Teich 10th, ch 2, pp. 13-21]

Winner, Langdon (1980). Do Artifacts Have Politics? [Teich 10th, ch 7, pp. 50-66]

General Questions

What caused the shift from enlightenment ideals to the modern conceptions of technological development as an end in and of itself? [Fair. Will require a great deal of understanding beyond what we can get from the readings.]

By definition, subjective interpretation presupposes that all interpretations are of the same merit. If all interpretations are equally correct, what would a social constructionist say in response to, for example, racist or sexist messages? Are those opinions valid opinions that should be defended? [Poor. Misstates subjective interpretation and does nothing to help us consider technology.]

Questions on Marx

Marx asks, "What is it that we want our new technologies to accomplish?" Well, what DO we want? What does Marx want? [Good. Well, a bit too open-ended, but perhaps has some potential.]

In what ways does Marx suggest the concept of progress has changed or evolved? [Good. Simple and straightforward, but helps the class get at the basic concepts of the reading.]

Marx says on page 11 that we "desperately need a set of political, social, and cultural goals comparable to those formulated at the beginning of the Industrial Era if we are to accurately assess the worth of new technology." But who is going to set these goals? Won't we run into the issue of these large decisions being made by the elite few rather than the non-elite many? In other words, is his proposed solution potentially too lofty to be realistic in today's society? [Good. Probably better without the last sentence. I appreciate the use of a quotation and page number.]

Marx claims that the shift to mass production in the United States committed the government to the growth of wealth, productivity, and power, in which technological innovation is synonymous with social progress (p. 8). If Marx is correct in citing economics as a contributor to this tendency, what can be done now? When could have something been done (before the industrial revolution)? [Good.]

Marx claims that “by questioning the assumption that innovation represents progress can we begin to judge it’s worth. The aim may well be to reduce labor costs, yet in our society the personal costs to the displaced workers are likely to be ignored.” In chapter 2, contradictory to Marx, they point to Ben Franklin’s ideals behind innovation- personal benefit should not be the reasoning behind innovation. Which of these two sets of would be more conducive to faster innovation? [Very good. Takes us beyond the readings to more general issues of technology.]

Questions on Pool

Pool (1997) mentioned how society helps implement new technology by deeming it socially acceptable; that is society classifies it as worthy to use. Consider the area of stem-cell research. How does society dictate what is acceptable or not? [Good. Picks an area in which there is not one clear answer that "society" gives.]

What is more powerful: Society or technology? Are we moving in a direction where either society or technology is beginning to dominate? [Good.]

Pool states, "Modern technology is like a Great Dane in a small apartment. It may be friendly, but you still want to make sure there’s nothing breakable within reach." What does this quote mean exactly? He then says, "So to protect the china and crystal..." What is the analogy he is making here? [Good. I think the analogy is pretty obvious, but I would accept that not everyone does, and so talking about it is an appropriate response.]

Pool discusses the dichotomy between the positivist approach and the social constructionist approach well and suggests a middle ground between the two. In what ways can we understand his idea of "technological knowledge"? [Mixed. I like the opening, and perhaps it's my misreading of Pool, but I'm not sure what the connection is between the first sentence and teh question.]

Pool talks about how technology's complexity leads to uncertainty about what the technology is actually capable of (whether good or bad). If significant advancements continue to be made in engineering and mathematics, could they become sufficient enough to overcome this uncertainty? Or can we humans never truly be certain about the capacity of the technologies we create? [Good. A bit open-ended, but thoughtful.]

According to Pool, we should ‘marry the positivist and the social constructionist perspectives’. What does he mean/what might this look like? [Good. Difficult enough concepts that we'll need to think about this. It would help if you gave a page number so that we could more easily check the context.]

Why does Pool believe that technical knowledge lies closer to on the middle of the “spectrum with scientific knowledge on one end and social knowledge on the other.”? Because most technologies are created with scientific knowledge, wouldn't they lie closer to that end? [Good.]

Pool claims, "As countries have become more prosperous and secure, their citizens have become less concerned about increasing their material well-being and more concerned with such aesthetic considerations as maintaining a clean environment" (p. 14), and this leads to more blind,uncritical acceptance of new technology. How does this exactly increase uncritical acceptance of new technologies? Is it because there is no explicit purpose for each technology? (i.e. do we forget what the technology is supposed to be for and solely focus on the fact that it is the newest?)

Questions on Winner

Is there an inherent problem with politically charged technology? Monopoly aside, if a large tomato farming operations are thriving, does this not mean that the market is also demanding their products? That is to say, harvesters would not have been developed had the market not demand for more hard and bland tomatoes. [Fair. Trying to fight a bit too hard for controversy.]

Does an artifact's requirement for a certain political environment necessarily mean that that artifact possesses a political quality? [Fair. Mostly a yes/no question.]

Winner's (1980) article talked about how some technology was constructed with a layer of oppression or discrimination toward a group, such as building bridges too low for public transportation to get through. If technology has some form of politics, does the creation of new technology automatically include and as a result exclude someone from reaping the benefits it offers? [Fair. Winner seems to fairly clearly say "yes", so I'm not sure what this asks beyond "Do you agree with him?"]

Does Winner believe that technology (even early technologies) have always had political connotations? Would he believe that there was specific time when they became political after the basic needs of humans were met? And what would an example of a non-political technology be? [Good.]

If one takes Winner seriously, then are there any technologies or technological systems that arguably aren't "political" at all? [Good.]

I believe Winner's use of the term "political" is misleading and, despite his explanation of it, would likely draw readers to a different conclusion than the one he would seek to make. I would propose that instead we think about Winner's argument in terms of French theorist Michel Foucault's idea of "power" as an omnipresent, intangible force imbedded in discourse, knowledge, and paradigms or belief systems (discursive ideologies). (For a totally decent explanation of Foucauldian power, see: http://www.powercube.net/other-forms-of-power/foucault-power-is-everywhere/.) Does the application of a Foucauldian lens render Winner's article irrelevant, or rather, immediately obvious? Does it add or detract to a workable intellectual framework for technology? Or, even, a moral framework? [Very good]

How would you synthesize Winner and Florman's argument? How do you think that Winner would engage with Florman's "tragic view"--as, perhaps, a political, moral, or justice-related standpoint on technology? (Is it cruel of him to suggest that mass catastrophes are just the "natural price" of technological projects?) [Very good]

Winner, similarly to Marx attempts to weigh the value of technological innovation. Though he believes that the value can be weighed through consequences the technological advancement produces (“form and quality of human associations”). Between these two evaluations of the importance of technological innovations which of them is a more adequate way to weigh the value of the technological innovation? [Fair. Awkward phrasing makes it hard to get the central question. And, as a class, our goal right now is to build lenses, not to compare them (at least not yet).]

Can you think of a technological invention or tool today that has political qualities, and how does the political agenda of said entity affect society? [Good. I like the approach to thinking beyond the reading. However, the assumed "political agenda" seems to be a bit of a misreading of Winner.]

After reading Winner, can there blame placed on the hardware or creators (as he argues no) in looking at public life? [Fair. Somewhat vague.]

Winner explains an example of technical arrangements as forms of order in which low-hanging overpasses in New York were built in order to prevent use by poor people and blacks, in particular. Is this acceptable of people with such power? Do you think or know if this type of thing still happens today? [The first question is fair, since the only real answer is "No, that's not an acceptable use of power." THe second question is reasonable.]

Copyright (c) 2014 Samuel A. Rebelsky.

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