"At first we shape our tools, thereafter they shape us"
Attributed to McLuhan we've held this saying to be true enough for more than half a century, in a century that is generally believed to be an era of new technology, or tools. This type of technological determinism has haunted storytelling for centuries - ask the Greek Titan Prometheus.
But how can we know if we're in the stage of "at first"? Is this time, right now, “at first”? Or was it yesterday or will it be tomorrow? At what point are we in the stage of "thereafter", where we presumably lose our ability to control our tools and so ourselves? Might we always be in an "at first" stage and therefore always in control? Or is that time forever past and we are merely struggling with the unending consequences, as Prometheus is? Perhaps we can learn to appreciate and even love all the consequences, instead of trying to control them, as Epimethius did - Prometheus’ brother, when he accepted Pandora’s gifts.
Being conscious and aware of how we create, use and then live with our tools and their consequences seems to be the best chance we have at establishing an acceptable relationship with technology, and maybe even to find something like "a happy encounter with new technology", as this conference asks. But what does it look like to be conscious and aware of our tools and their consequences, specifically technology and education?
Before I try and depict that, I want to emphasise that my primary goal is to merely legitimise consciousness and awareness in the field of education and educational technologies. We need philosophy, ethics, anthropology, history, theory, art, storytelling, criticism and debate. In my 15 years working full time forming and implementing educational technology agendas in tertiary education institutions, such things have not been applied in our field.
For what it’s worth, I’ll apply what little I have in being conscious and aware to the questions of data and learning analytics, learning management systems, and the internet and social media. I aim to question the assumptions, principles and integrity of these technologies and the things we imagine we might do with them, and try and point out and propose other ways of being with those technologies. In doing so I hope to at least show that the application of consciousness and awareness to these technologies is of use to the future of technology, and has value in terms of happiness and contentedness.
- 9 August 2017 a week ago I searched "Humanist Technology" and came across a valuable blog post by Michael Sacasas called Humanist technology criticism compiled in 2015. In it he cites a good number of significant works across a 200 year period that have contributed to the question around technology and humanity. I've finished reading all those links, but wanted to note here what Sacasas distilled from the collection - a set of 5 principles:
- "That said, I would suggest that a humanist critique of technology entails a preference for technology that:
- (1) operates at a humane scale,
- (2) works toward humane ends,
- (3) allows for the fullest possible flourishing of a person’s capabilities,
- (4) does not obfuscate moral responsibility, and
- (5) acknowledges certain limitations to what we might quaintly call the human condition.