Posts Tagged ‘technology’

…melts into air

March 13, 2009

Today I read this in Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now :

…the very web-like structure of the Web often makes it difficult to determine where texts end – or begin, for that matter. All the cutting and pasting, grafting and transplanting, internal and external linking involved means that the boundaries between the text and its surroundings, its material support, are blurred and can become almost impossible to determine online – just as the boundaries separating authors, editors, programmers, producers, consumers, users, and commentators/critics are blurred.(p.66)

The blurring of textual boundaries interests me. Especially in academic texts, where citing other texts, other legitimate texts, is the necessary foundation for the building of new texts.

Yesterday I went to an event at UBC.

The MisEducated Imagination: McLuhan’s Creativity The lasting legacy of Marshall McLuhan has everything to do with his creatively disruptive thought: art as an early warning system of major technological change, media theory as culture probes, words moving at light-speed, texts as worm holes to alternative futures, a festival of seductive paradoxes in writing, images, and aphorisms. With McLuhan, technology simultaneously stultifies and mobilizes the imagination, does violence to the human nervous system and creates electronic breakthroughs. Arthur Kroker is Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory & Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria. Author of numerous books on technology and culture, including The Will to Technology, The Possessed Individual, The Postmodern Scene and Technology and the Canadian Mind: Innis, McLuhan and Grant. With Marilouise Kroker, he has edited the field-defining anthology, Critical Digital Studies and the internationally acclaimed electronic journal, CTheory (www.ctheory.net ).

One Code To Rule Them All… When all that has been solid melts into code, how do we rethink and re-make scholarly praxis — theory, research and pedagogy — built from and for a literate universe? Quality becomes quantity, arts and sciences are re-fused, media fluidly converge, and even the ontology of the body, this “too too solid flesh” of Hamlet’s distracted imaginings, becomes molten, as virtuality. This paper is part of a larger project which interweaves three strands of interdisciplinary scholarship: the conceptual work of forging a ‘digital epistemology,’ the technological challenge of developing a multimedia, multimodal research tool capable of taking the measure of the re-mediated subjects and objects of interdisciplinary study, and the pedagogical call for the resuscitation of ‘play’ as inseparable from and indispensable for teaching, learning and the advancement of knowledge under unprecedented conditions of uncertainty.  Suzanne de Castell is Professor and Dean pro-tem of the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University( http://www.educ.sfu.ca/research/decaste/). She’s interested in relations between media and epistemology, between ‘knowing’ and ‘tools of intellect’, in relation to print literacy, new media studies, and game-based educational technologies. Books include Literacy Society and Schooling (with Alan Luke and Kieran Egan), Language, Authority and Criticism (with Alan and Carmen Luke) Radical Interventions (with Mary Bryson) and Worlds in Play (with Jen Jenson). Her current work is on the ludic epistemologies of game-based learning, exemplified in several projects co-developed with Jenson: Contagion ( http://contagion.edu.yorku.ca/), a compelling game about public health , Arundo Donax , ( http://contagion.edu.yorku.ca/Tafelmusik/login/login.html), a gripping engagement with Baroque music, and Epidemic, a social networking site where your ‘friends’ are contacts you manage to infect. She co-edits the Canadian Game Studies journal, Loading…(http:// journals.sfu.ca/loading/ )

Dr. Arthur Kroker gave a concealed radical talk. He was saying something under the academic babble, something about a new consciousness that was to come, a change in our miseducation. That the new digital consciousness, new digitized body that we take on. Taken as a whole, if only for a moment, it was worth the two hour bus trip to and from UBC. That ride in itself, and the fact that it was bodies with ears listening to Kroker read from a laser-printed paper, should be enough to dispute what Kroker was saying, of course there was a very radical undertone, to the talk. Suzanne de Castell talk was much more concrete with her explanation of an experiment to expose the social construction of meaning. The need for such thinking in society, the ability to reflect on our constructions, entered the question and answer part of the talk. A question was asked of Kroker, it was more an expression of disapproval than a question. It went something like “You say there is a new digital body, a new digital future, but does this change the way we eat or love?” The answer given by de Castell was great. She said that the confusion between eat and love, that one is a physical need and the other a social, or literary, construction. We’ve been colonized by the word. She told of the creation of romantic love by literature. I don’t think the questioner “got it” but it was a very good point. Our categories, boundaries, the narratives, and meaning attached to our bodies are not solid. These are the necessary errors, the solidity, that with new insights melt into air.

Glossary

May 18, 2008

Tearing down to build up?

Is it really easier to tear down than build up? Isn’t it possible that the frustration edutech advocates are expressing in this conference is an inability to tear down traditional ideas in education? And if talking about what’s going on in this conference without waving pompoms is looked upon unfavourably, there is an outside, but very relevant, example in the science vs. religion debate. While scientists were busy catching atoms, exploring space and working with stem cells, Christians were busy teaching their children about creation.

I am, and have been, proposing strategies for the advocacy of a research agenda. Why advocate for something that isn’t the best it can be? I wrote in the post above that the research agenda should include the need for a strong scientific, philosophical and historical foundation. I gave Stephen Downes as an example of a researcher with this type of foundation. And when I say education researchers lack discipline, I mean that they use terms without being aware of their meaning. Downes has complained of this lack of discipline as well. I pick up the Canadian Education Associations magazine and am frustrated each and every issue by the sloppy use of terms. Writers who’ve clearly never read a single word of Derrida’s throw around “deconstruction” like it can mean whatever they want it to. Educational research needs more discipline, it needs a stronger scientific, philosophical and historical foundation.

Education research needs to be stronger to stand up to the antipathy in the educating workforce. I am a friend of this agenda, and as any reader of Nietzsche can tell you, a good friend is your worst enemy.

The point I am trying to get across is the lack of discipline in education studies. The field of computer assisted distance learning is over 25 years old, yet the general vibe from the discussions here is that it’s a brand new field. Web 2.0 is an essentially meaningless buzzword dreamed up by a sales team, and it’s thrown around like it has weight. Remember Generation X? The marketers went wild with that one too, and then Y and some even went as far as Z. Cell phones in education? That’s a parody writing itself. Web phone 3.0 isn’t a bad research topic in itself, but without a strong scientific/philosophical/historical foundation it amounts to fanboy drivel or marketing spin. You can point to Stephen Downes and say look, ed tech research is rock solid, but for every Stephen Downes, who’s done and continues to do his homework, there are a large number of “researchers” who need to dig a little deeper. The strongest education research would be connected to or at least aware of the relevant work in other disciplines. Elearning needs at the very least a philosophy.
The separation between creating knowledge and reproducing knowledge is not distinct. I’m definitely simplifying. Knowledge reproduction is not necessarily a bad thing or something educators should feel they must move beyond.

When I say critical I mean to take elearning apart and see what it is. Technology is always designed to be used. Research as well is designed to be used. They are also designed to serve interests. I don’t have an answer here. If I did would type it out. A pan-Canadian elearning research agenda needs to be explicit about who it will serve. Is it possible to do research in general? Is it possible to create an agenda open to a variety of interests?

elearning

I read elearning as learning with the prefix “e.” Learning I define as the reproduction of knowledge. Learning in this definition takes place in an educational setting. I don’t deny the human potential to create knowledge, but elearning’s potential resides in its use as an effective means of communication between two bodies.

Every teacher knows that if a student didn’t learn it, you didn’t teach it. In an educational setting reproduced knowledge is learned knowledge. Knowledge exists in a body prior to being teachable. When the knowledge comes to exist in a second body it has been reproduced or taught. The example I gave earlier of 8 year-old Canadians who know, at least after school on November 11, that the military secured our rights and freedoms in the wars is reproduced knowledge. It is knowledge communicated from one body to another. These 8 year-olds have this knowledge without any direct experience. This is learned knowledge.

The creation of knowledge is not the same as the reproduction of knowledge. These two meanings in the one term learning will only lead to confusion.

Chapter 6: Democratizing Technology

March 20, 2007

One of the interesting potentials of blogs lies in research. With a few key words you can compile a sampling of attitudes within a sector. Sure you can find any opinion you want to promote, but the potential for a public dialogue exists. You can replace “technology” in this book with any other public institution and it would more or less hold up. Is this because medicine, housing, education, transportation are technology? Here’s a blog post entitled rather descriptively People Who Know Nothing About Schools Telling Us How to Fix Them again, switch “schools” with “technologies,” “hospitals,” or “shelters” and it amounts to pretty much the same thing; professionals want to feel like they have some control over their work. This is the control Feenberg wants to see wrested from the professions. In chapter 2 Feenberg shows how these “white collar” labourers sided with the people against the ruling class.

Education gets knocked about often enough by public policy and it seems to be in constant crisis. I guess that’s why Feenberg might like to see locally elected technology boards. I’ll just put the pulled quotes here again:

Technology is power in modern societies, a greater power in many domains than the political system itself. (p.131)

But if technology is so powerful, why don’t we apply the same democratic standards to it we apply to other political institutions? By those standards the design process as it now exists is clearly illegitimate. (p.131)

Representation, even at its best, diminishes the citizens by confiscating their agency. (p.133)

Disarmed by its emphasis on representation and central role of majorities in electoral politics, conventional democratic theory tends to devalue or ignore actual public participation by smaller numbers and tacitly to accept the mass mediated shadow for the substance of public life. (p.133)

Only reinvigorated communities can arrest the slide of modern society into media-manipulated passivity. (p.134)

All too often, public interventions into technology are dismissed as nonpolitical or, worse yet, undemocratic because they mobilize only small minorities. (p.134)

Feenberg uses the sidewalk ramp as an example of public policy for the benefit of minority groups. (p.141)

Instead, the most important means of assuring more democratic technical representation remains transformation of the technical codes and the educational process through which they are inculcated. (p.143)

Such schemes [electronic town hall meetings] deligitimate by implication the forms of intervention open to us today which are not usually based on the principle of majority rule in a community setting. (p.145)


Feenberg proposes “a strategy combining the democratic rationalization of technical codes with electoral controls on technical institutions.” With this strategy, popular agency “would be normalized and incorporated into the standard procedures of technical design.” (p.147)

I’d like to have more time to write these up, maybe have something clear to say, hopefully this will be useful to me later. This has got to be better than writing nothing. Right now I can’t make any argument, and maybe it’s best to consider my words a little more carefully. I am reactionary. When I come up against even an attempted optimism (see pages 4 and 14 of chapter 1) my pessimism rises, and the reverse is true.

Do I simply need to develop more of a personal stance? Stance? Perhaps a straddling of the polemical divides, like some sort of conceptual millipede. That’s more the case. I’d like to see technology legislated. After watching Who Killed The Electric Car, it’s obvious how out of control the people who drive technology, the people who actually work for, make necessary and pay for that technology, have no say in how it is designed. When the Big Three are wiped off the map, it’ll have been for their own short-sightedness.

I’d like to see something done, but national governments are corporate ideology cushions, and local governments, as powerless in the sway of corporate dollars. Anyone who challenges these institutions will be beaten. And yet, many of the social services we take for granted were implemented to domesticate the enraged working class. Their unions were heavily legislated. Communists, their ideological foundation, weren’t allowed in leadership positions. Their actions were completely legislated, their potential controlled. The government’s moves to provide free education for everyone were condemned as a communistic idea, which it was. The working class was given everything its communist champions were calling for except control.

I don’t know how our democracy works. I’ve got a schoolboy’s idea of democracy, but this tired middle-aged hack doesn’t know all the forces at play. This idea Feenberg proposes feels good to the freedom and peace loving schoolboy who still lives around here somewhere, but for the cagey veteran in us the system isn’t rational.

There is no free and lively dialogue. It’s written in the history of Socrates, Jesus, unnumbered union leaders, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, John Lennon. Our power potential reduced to a monologue. Libel chill, Advertising boycott chill. To imagine there is some free and lively dialogue in North America is to be so intellectually limited that the stunted back and forth… no one buys it. Everybody know the reality. If you’re not dead, you haven’t said anything we need to hear. What a funny world we live in where an assassin’s bullet is our highest intellectual prize.

Chapter 5: The Problem of Agency

March 16, 2007

I hadn’t read Chapter 7: Critical Theories of Technology, when Kant was recommended to me. In Chapter 7 Feenberg asks the question: “what can we learn from Marcuse and Habermas assuming that we are neither metaphysicians nor instrumentalists, that we reject both a romantic critique of science and the neutrality of technology?” Of course he goes on to answer that question for us. Now, One Dimensional Man is on my reading list, and I’m thinking about something by Niklas Luhmann, but I’ll have to ask around. What can we learn, and how can we use it to build the grand theory?

I’ve got the feeling that these quotes/ideas are going to be useful:

As in the factory or hospital or school, urban centers, media, even unions are reconstructed around the paradigm of technical administration. Expertise legitimates power in society at large, and “citizenship” consists in the recognition of its claims and conscientious performance in mindless subordinate roles. The public sphere withers; a literal silence is instituted as one-way communication replaces dialogue throughout society. (p.101)

The resulting weakness of democratic intervention into technology is symptomatic. (p.101)

The politics of sexual and racial identity returns agency to the individual but at a level that leaves basic technocratic structures untouched. (p.102)

Despite diminishing educational and cultural inequalities, social evolution continues on an authoritarian track. (p.103)

What we have learned is that even if no totalizing approach makes sense, the tensions in the individual system can be grasped on a local basis from “within,” by individuals immediately engaged in technically mediated activities and able to actualize ambivalent potentialities suppressed by the prevailing technological rationality. (p.105)

Social groups constituted by technology will reflexively turn on it.??????

It is this sort of agency that holds the promise of a democratization of technology. Technical politics foreshadows a world in which technology, as a kind of social “legislation” affecting every aspect of our lives, will emerge from these new types of public consultations. (p.105)

The problem is still the struggle against technocracy and its claim to an exclusive monopoly on rationality. But the solution now is to find radical political resources immanent to technologically advanced societies. (p.108)

Change in the system can destabilize its power structure.

“A thousand ways of playing/outplaying the other’s game, that is to say, the space that others have instituted, characterize the subtle, tenacious, resistant activity of groups which, for lack of a base, must maneuver in a network of established forces and representations.” From de Certeau

What de Certeau calls “exorbitant” practices are the equivalent of dominant language. Everyone must speak it, but marginal practices, like local slang, can give it a special twist. (p.113)

Where excluded members mobilize, political movements of a new type emerge that promise to create a lively technical public sphere.

Formulating local knowledge in a technical language that has legitimacy in the public sphere.

Chapter 4: The Limits of Technical Rationality

March 14, 2007

I had a short conversation with a couple academics a few weeks ago. Questioning Technology came up, and they wondered what I thought of it. It’s hard to talk about books like this with guys like this, but I had to confess that I’d never read any of the philosophers Feenberg uses to get his concepts together. Weber, Heidegger (only an article on Nietzsche), Marcuse, Habermas, I hadn’t read a single word of them. That’s pretty much why the pulled quotes I call “notes” are all I type out. But in philosophy I have read, the concepts of autonomy and human creative force were forged long ago.

So I ask a question, why read some monster tome of god-smothered thinking? I’ve tried Kant. Once you’ve read his name being dragged through the mud of Nietzsche’s anger it’s hard to put in the effort to read Kant. I picked up a slim hardcover copy of his Introduction to Logic, and I’ve tried to start it several times but can’t get past the first line, maybe I get a little into the second line, then I’m done. The book goes back on the shelf. I was told by one of the academics to hold off my judgement and read Kant. No reason, just read Kant.

Like I said this was weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about that. My philosophical reading has been limited to the sons of Nietzsche. So I decided to read the Critique of Pure Reason. I thought it would be interesting to read it with the Critique of Cynical Reason. Plus, there’s something mystical about this.

Anyway, these are some quotes that I pulled:

“Democratic” rationalism is a contradiction in Weberian terms. On those terms, once tradition has been defeated by modernity, radical struggle for freedom and individuality degenerates into an affirmation of irrational life forces against the routine and drab predictability of a bureaucratic order. This is not a democratic program but a romantic anti-dystopian one, the sort of thing that is already foreshadowed in Dostoievsky’s Notes From Underground and various back to nature ideologies. (p.75)

We need not go underground or native to escape the iron cage… this is in fact the meaning of the emerging social movements to change technology in a variety of areas such as computers, medicine and the environment. (p.76)

Two principles of technology’s ambivalence:
1. Conservation of hierarchy: social hierarchy and the continuation of power are generally unaffected by the introduction of new technologies.
2. Democratic rationalization: technical initiatives often follow structural reforms pursued by social movements.(p.76)

Technological development is not unilinear but branches in many directions, and could reach generally higher levels along several different tracks. (p.83)

A critical theory of technology can “demystify the illusion of technical necessity, and expose the relativity of the prevailing technical choices.”(p.87)

Social groups excluded from the original design network articulate their unrepresented interests politically. New values the outsiders believe would enhance their welfare appear as mere ideology to insiders who are adequately represented by the existing designs. (p.94)

Design is not a zero sum economic game but an ambivalent cultural process that serves a multiplicity of values and social groups without necessarily sacrificing efficiency. (p.95)

We will someday mock those who object to cleaner air and water as a “false principle of humanity” that violates technological imperatives. (p.97)

Technocracy and Rebellion: The May Events of 1968

February 21, 2007

This chapter… some notes. Feenberg “argues for subjecting technology to democratic debate and reconstruction.” That’s from one of the blurbs in the front of the book. I’m going to read through to the end of the book before I touch another chapter. There’s something happening here in the first part of this book that is completely disconnected from anything I understand.

This chapter is supposed to “open a window on the revolution in thinking about technology that continues to this day.” But again, not being much of a reader, and born after May ’68, I haven’t been much influenced by the thinking before this revolution. The essentialism and determinism explained in chapter 1, I don’t know, maybe being born after ’68 the thought of being creative in the world has just always existed.

And I don’t mean creative in the sense of free and easy artists. Maybe determinism comes from an inability to see our own selves. Perhaps it’s a belief in God, or a desire to believe in an authority, because the superficial message we get is not our people’s. The perfect example comes around every year. Each November 11 we’re reminded of the state’s role in securing our rights and freedoms. I grew up in a union home. The change in our standard of living didn’t come from the government. A dying generation created my situation. They literally had to fight the state(complex) to improve our lives.

Once you’ve seen it in your life, you recognize it in history. Civil rights, women’s right, Gay rights, no one in standard issue uniform went to war for their rights.

The ’68 student movement creates a new politics, “challenging capitalism in new ways.”(p.21)

Feenberg “reconsiders” the May events along four themes.

  1. logic of student revolt
  2. student/worker relations
  3. middle strata’s ideological crisis
  4. new libertarian image of socialism

“[the students] refuse to become professors serving a teaching system which selects the sons of the bourgeoisie and eliminates the others;”(p.25) They rejected their “role in the process of social reproduction.” While Feenberg alludes to a complex “c” conservatism in the university(p.23), the students’ writing claim the revolt was not about the situation in the university.

Society “pretends to be based on knowledge.” The students called for workers’ self management and for a transformation of daily life and culture.

The middle strata sided with the people.

“workers would set there factories back in motion on their own account.”(p.39)

Sartre wrote, the events of May ’68 “enlarged the field of the possible.”

“In the domain that interests us here, these movements were precursors that announced the limits of technocratic power”(p.43)

Chapter 1: Technology, Philosophy, Politics (notes)

February 8, 2007

This might be a trick I use to move on. I’ll simply pull quotes from a chapter. They may or may not become useful to me later on…

“If human significance of technology is largely unmapped territory, this is mainly due to the idealism of Western higher culture.”

“Technological development transforms what it is to be human.”

Essentialism holds that there is one and only one “essence” of technology and it is responsible for the chief problems of modern civilization. I will offer both a critique of essentialism, which continues to set the terms of most philosophy of technology, and an alternative to it, in the concluding chapters of this book.”

“It is not easy to explain the dramatic shift in attitudes toward technology that occurred in the 1960s. By the end of the decade early enthusiasm for nuclear energy and the space program gave way to technophobic reaction. But it was not so much technology itself as the rising technocracy that provided public hostility.”

“Part I of this book therefore includes two chapters on particularly revealing events and debates of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I have chosen subjects which seemed important to me at the time and which shape the philosophy of technology presented in this book. I do not claim that these examples are typical, but I do believe that close attention to them opens a window on the revolution in the thinking about technology that continues to this day.”

“[Marcuse and Foucault] relate technical domination to social organization and argue that technology has no singular essence but is socially contingent and could therefore be reconstructed to play different roles in different social systems.”

“The debate between Habermas and Marcuse is the subject of Chapter 7.”

“In part II I attempt to develop and apply this new democratic conception of technology in the light of what social constructivism has taught us in the intervening years.”

“Whatever the ultimate status of scientific-technical knowledge, it is what we use for truth in making policy.”

“Must we choose between universal rationality and culturally or politically particularized values?”

“In the third part of the book, I will attempt to preserve these thinkers’ advance toward the critical integration of technical themes to philosophy without losing the conceptual space for imagining a radical reconstruction of modernity.”

“Its political implications appear where it interferes with human communication in essential lifeworld domains such as family or education.”