Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Need for Humility in Techno-Thinking

Driving to school early yesterday morning, I was shocked to hear Chris Farley's ghost. Actually it was his brother advertising exploiting his brother's memory. This triggered thoughts about how utopian and out-of-touch some technological thinking can be. As the dead came to life over the radio, I wondered about the certain strain of techno-thinking that is so optimistic about the future and the promises of technology.

We don't have to look far to see how "backwards" some contemporary ideas have become. This should make us cautious about over-hyping the promise of technology. Take one recent example in the area of science, technology and medicine,

In Diana Wagman's Sunday LATIMES piece "One diagnosis away from despair A family's journey through teenage depression, recovery and hope." She chronicles how her son was almost lost to the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry when her son was diagnosed "bi-polar." I'm not saying that these kids don't have problems, it's just a century ago they would have been considered "normal Victorian boys" being a little "wild" unless they were minorities or women.

In this example, we have regressed to the late 19th Century's assumptions. The sciences defined women as neurasthenic when they acted "hysterical" and minorities as degenerate. Then, they would have been labeled "sick"; now they'd [over]medicated.

What does this have to do with technology and set-top cops? It has everything to do with how we think about technology and society. We should have humility when thinking about the promise of technology, remembering the technology is neutral and a powerful force.

In a recent seminar, Issac Dacio, the owner of a chain of record stores, was asked about the future of collecting vinyl. Dacio felt that something is being lost as DJs switch to Serato Digital/"Virtual" DJing. The physicality of experience, the substance of collecting is being diluted, accepted and replaced by users "absorbing" content.

Humility is required. It is as easy for our thinking to regress as it to progress, and technology increases the speed of such changes. As Melvin Krarnzberg has written, “‘Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral.’ It is indeed a force, probably more than ever…that penetrates the core of life and mind.”

1 comment:

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