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Anna Greathead

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 3 Jun 2018, 22:14

Is technology itself a cause of reform or an instrument used to encourage reform?

One argument I have repeatedly made within H800 is that technology is neutral. It can be used for good or for ill, it can enhance or detract, it is neither good or bad - it simply is. Whilst this is not a fully formed position I tend to think that it's a good place to begin from. 

However - this question doesn't really ask if technology is good or bad. It assumes a correlation between technology and reform and asks us to assess a causal link.

The personification of 'technology' is the first problematic idea we face. Technology is not independent - it is all created by, and for, people. It can not cause or encourage anything. The people behind it may do so. Do these people develop technology with a view to reform? I suppose some may but I would be surprised if that was the majority position. Technology, ironically, seems to evolve in an almost biological way with unexpected successes, inexplicable failures and a messy march in the general direction of forwards - but with many tangents and offshoots. 

The company I work for could not exist without the internet. All of our services and products are bought online, a great many of them are delivered online. Was this was Tim Berners-Lee had in mind? Or Bill Gates? No - absolutely not. The long term impact of their inventions was not so much unintended and unexpected as beyond our wildest dreams. 

So many aspects of everyday life (in the developed world, and increasingly everywhere) are now technology dependent. Banking, shopping, travel, communications - all heavily reliant on the internet. Did the development of the internet cause this reform or was it a tool used to encourage reform? Did we, 20 years ago, even perceive that reform was necessary or possible? 

Given that we are specifically looking at 'learning' in H800 I suppose the question must be applied to the classroom, lecture theatre, study hall and library. What is technology doing there? I think I can safely assume that the experience of a student - at any level - right now is unrecognizably different to the experience I had at university in 1996; the main difference being the birth and growth of the internet in the interim. But did the internet cause the change or merely encourage it? I'd argue neither. The internet grew and the people used it. As more people used it, the internet grew more. The internet became more useful to more people as more and more people were able to manipulate it. So more and more people used the internet. It has been an organic process despite it being an entirely inorganic invention. 

Future reform may well be just as the internet was 20 years ago. Limited only by our imaginations. 

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Alex Bell

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Hi Anna

Liking your blog. Your premise that the Technology is inert is contestable though. We can't un-invent. And perhaps as we shape our tools then our tools shape us.  It might be said that what we shape 'the medium' is more important than what we use it for 'the message'.  McLuhan says "The medium is the message" and later "the massage", as once we have created something anything (e.g. including the phonetic alphabet in his example) we are thus shaped by it. We are what we create! McLuhan said that in creating the phonetic alphabet we sewed the dragons teeth, that from then on we became anew, we became a visual man [Gender: McLuhan's]  focussing on the visual world, the world of science rather than the aural world that was before. Imagining a world without writing ( a technology created by us) is not an easy thing, but it was in existence longer.

It's OK to start with a premise and follow it but you should try and also look at it from the premise that technology is not inert and that regardless who initiated it, it has a cultural force of it's own. Or at least you need to have an argument for the premise.

What do you think?


Anna Greathead

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Hi Alex

Well - you have given me a lot of food for thought! 

I will crystallize my response in a new blog post. Hope that works for you!