Summer Class in Session – Reading Response #1

First Reading Response of summer classes.

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I admit, regardless of the consequential judgements that may result, prior to completing the readings for this week I lived in what could be considered a naïve state.  Yes, I understand that injustice and hatred thrive in our world.  Although when I read through the syllabus and saw that we were initiating the course by analyzing the implications of technology on society I thought, “implications, as in the advancement of humankind?”.  I could not comprehend the idea that technology could have such severe consequences – nor had several of those that are not so exaggerated, crossed my mind.  Let alone ones that were intentional and could be inherently political.  As I progressed through the four assigned readings, each seemed to build off of the next, taking these concepts and the analysis a step further.  Hutchby, Pacey, Winner, and the Selfe’s all took varying perspectives on the issue at hand, although all acknowledged the reality and necessity for those developing technologies to consider factors beyond just the intended function of a technology.

In my opinion, Hutchby laid the groundwork for the concepts that are presented in the other three articles, he provides the basis for all of the papers – does technology shape society, or is it vice versa?  Hutchby also introduces the concept of technological determinism – the idea that technology is always good and offers improvements by merely existing, without any social or cultural implications.   Although throughout his paper he brings to light how crucial it is for us to consider the reality that technologies impact all parts of life, and how apparent it is that the relationship between users and technology is a two way street.  The flow of his article was at times difficult to follow and often left me wondering what his purpose was, or where he was taking the conversation.  Though necessary clarifications were made, at the beginning and in his conclusion, specifically.  He could have utilized a more logical order and flow, this thought became more ironic after reading through the Selfe’s piece. Although, if nothing else he allows the core of this research and work to surface.   He also acknowledges how the analysis completed prior to his work, was lacking and how it could and should improve into the future.

Pacey takes the concepts introduced by Hutchby, and breaks them down in a more focused and specific way.  He acknowledges the fact that the term “technology”, itself, has had its meaning muddied through its exploitation and overuse throughout the years.  His article sets to great define and clarify the concept and its cousins.  He makes the perspective which Hutchby ultimately took, and refines it down to a single phrase – technology practice.  This concept is broken down into three relevant aspects: technical, organizational and cultural.  For me the further breakdown, in addition to the more tangible and relatable examples – such as the snow mobile and the water pump – provided me more reference and deeper understanding of the discussion. With the water pump, and its failure at the maintenance level, I was able to realize parallels within any multi-level organization, where no one wants to take responsibility for a failure, fingers are always pointed elsewhere.  We all view situations through tunnel vision and never want to take the blame.  This applies to the idea of technology in the way that support and willingness exists in the beginning, during creation and employment, but often the thought of “how will this be sustained long term” is often not asked.

To review the issue from a more specific perspective, Winner writes about the political characteristics of technologies – whether inherent or otherwise.  This article was the one that brought to light the most severe cases of how power has been used in our country to create physical, tangible technologies in order to intentionally impact trends within society – including active prejudice. This is the one that made me uncomfortable, that made me realize I live in what could be considered a “bubble”, where I am shielded from so much of the injustice that others experience.  The low hanging bridges that exist to this day in Long Island, in particular were completely eye opening.  Social class bias and racial prejudice, so blatant, and yet so accepted.

Selfe and Selfe were able to apply the reality of prejudice that exists for Americans who are more darkly colored, to how this type of precedence has been widely accepted and allowed within our society – in ways that are much more subtly than an individual being excessively searched and questioned when re-entering the US.  Realization of the design of computers and even the Internet, came while I was reading this piece.  I have never once stopped to think about the fact that each of these platforms were geared to an English speaking, white collar, male audience – in the way that English is set as the default language, systems are designed in a hierarchical way, and the metaphors that exist in the naming of features within each.

Overall, I think that the readings for this week provided me foundational insight in the reality that exists within the interwoven relationship between technology and society.  I think that the groundwork laid and historical references provided by the four articles, will allow me to better grasp the topics to come in this course.  This has been the first step in my I hope to have my naivity transitioned to awareness.

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