Monday, February 15, 2010

ETEC 750 readings - Week 4

Last week I didn't have to do any readings for class. However this week, our class read Technology Matters: Questions to Live With by David E. Nye. No, not Bill Nye the Science Guy, although I thought the book was by him when I first looked at the cover.

The first chapter of Technology Matters was hard to read I have to admit. I kept having to put it down every so often because I couldn't concentrate on Nye's historical accounts of how cultural created technology instead of technology creating cultural, as society usually presumes. It's not that the first chapter was filled with superfluous academic discourse or that the words were tiny with no breaks in between paragraphs. Plus, I am a fan of history, so I thought I would be somewhat captivated by it. It was just that the chapter didn't seem like a story. It was mostly a stating of facts, not necessarily a linear narrative of how society or societies got to a certain point in their history.

However, when I arrived at the second chapter, I really got into his book because I am a fan of studying and critiquing the oh-so-famous concept of technological determinism. I first encountered the term back when I was taking a Rhetoric and Technology class for English back in my undergraduate days. Plus, the chapter had somewhat of a narrative format which I enjoy reading. It was also after reading this chapter that I realized that I needed the information from Chapter 1 to fully appreciate what Nye was talking about in Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 as well as the rest of the chapters after that were Nye's case against technological determinism. His main argument was similar to that of Chapter 1, that people, society, and their culture determine the adoption and distribution of technology. He also indirectly showed how one culture's technology doesn't necessarily "work" for another culture even though they may have the same problem that this particular problem. I also liked how he gave examples of how society often uses technology in ways that it wasn't originally intended for.

What I found most interesting was how Nye described how certain technologies come about in that inventors often "discover" their inventions and people explain the concepts behind these inventions rather than the other way around, where the inventors understand certain concepts and then "create" inventions out of them. Another factoid that I found interesting from the chapters is how companies would try to "feminize" products to make them appeal to the female consumer, but have little success in selling them even though they did this. I like how he explains how gender often plays a role in technology, but it is through culture that the gender role within the use of this technology is perpetuated.

Overall, I found this book a good read. It does make a solid case against technological determinism which I hadn't considered before. I mainly heard from fellow professors regarding how technology shaped our culture, but rarely heard the argument on how we shape technology. It is somewhat like the Matrix movies. Even though technology has taken over the world, it still represents itself in the form of human beings, at least within the Matrix. Will technology eventually gain a mind of its own and adapt to our culture or will it change our culture once and for all? Hard to say. I think I'm more on the side of humans shaping technology rather than on the "technological determinism" side, but I can see valid points from both sides. I think the human being is still too complex to ever be replaced by computers. Simply, computers and machines are an extension of ourselves but not necessarily a replacement.

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