ajdurant - Andy Durant

Random notes and things

Response to 'Look Wherever You Want'

This blog post is a response to Elisabeth Shuker’s blog on the 8th of May 2014, which itself is a response to Gary Turk’s spoken word video ‘Look Up’

I would recommend reading / watching these.

Whilst I agree with the disarmament of Gary Turk’s video, I think it is wrong to suggest that technology is a blank canvas. I would say that whilst the majority of human creative works are neither inherently evil or good, and can be used for both purposes, the things we create are not created neutral.

Technology can shape and change us as much as we shape and change it. And all things we create have a manifestation of our worldview within them. This is most clear in storytelling media: films, books and TV have a message behind the story, they create a world which has a moral basis and structure and as we absorb ourselves into their culture our worldview and moral basis can be shifted by them (both towards or away). This is not always the case, but I would argue that our perception of the world is created through our previous experience, which may often come from or relate to created worlds in story telling media.

Anyway back to technology, as pointed out, throughout history new technology has been blamed for changes in behaviour of younger generations as it is different from the old way. Alan Kay’s definition “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” is helpful to show that actually in some way all tools are or once were technology. Douglas Adams gives 3 categories:

  1. “everything that’s already in the world when you are born is just normal”
  2. “anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it”
  3. “anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really”

Throughout history these new technologies have been embraced or derided for the change they bring. And the gaps in generations cause myths about technology to form within them. The changes brings both good and bad things by how people use them, but the people that use them are also shaped by their tools.

It may be a slightly contrived example, but for instance a spade wears on your hands as you use it to shape the ground. It enables us to change the land differently to other tools but it also shapes us as we use it, physically hands/arms/back/muscles and also mentally in developing how we sense the land and how we approach it. Our contact to the world is through the tools we use, which enable them to shape us as we shape the world.

Moving to social media I believe the same is true, it shapes us physically (probably to a lesser extent - although there is a common outcome known in my field as the ‘Computer Scientist Hunch’ from bad posture all day at computers) and mentally. “The medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan) is a phrase often quoted, particularly with communication tools (and arguably all tools provide communication in some way). As a very brief example think of the last thing you sent in a text, that same message would be very different if it had been sent in an email or a letter or in person. The media we use to communicate shapes the message we speak.

So I agree that we should not idolise or demonise technology, however, I think we also need be wary of blindly allowing it to shape ourselves and our worldview. Instead, we should critically engage with our culture, recognising both its positive and negative impact / influence.

These are my own thoughts and words, but many of my arguments have been shaped by ‘From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology’ by John Dyer (Kregel Publications 2011)