28 September 2011

Systems of Self Perpetuation


Building upon a few of my comments from our last session as well as my previous (and somewhat) unfinished post about Bacon, Hughes, V.Bush and the [perceived] promises of technoscience, I hope to better develop some of my rushed (i.e. slightly incoherent) thoughts. Although perhaps still in inchoate

First a few words about technological momentum and why it is (so I argue) an important concept to keep in the back of our minds as we unpack the digital treasure chest and determine what (e.g. theories, applications, ideologies, paradigms, pedagogies, etc.) is useful and maybe what is problematic. Hughes works to enmesh the technical and the social (or technology and society if you prefer). Not necessarily co-evolution in its strictest sense, but certainly akin to the concept, technological momentum really stress the factor of time. In short, Hughes argues that when a technology is new/young/novel/etc., deliberate control over its use and scope is possible (and largely desirable) and enacted by society. However as a technology matures/integrates/normalizes/etc., it is increasingly enmeshed in the society/social context where it was created. Moreover, when technology become socialized (i.e. indecipherable from [arguably] critical to the construction and definition of the social context) its own deterministic force takes hold. In short, over time the technology grows increasing important to the society that created it. On flipside, society becomes more dependent upon the technology that it is less able to shape/mold/control because it has taken on a certain degree of autonomy (even if only in a socially constructed sense). The Matrix anyone?

Reading Sengupta and Sisario's piece from yesterday's (which is no longer yesterday, but now 5 days ago -- but for the sake of authorial transparency and a illustration of my rhizomatic network of meta cognition, "yesterday" it shall remain) NYT -- "Facebook as Tastemaker" -- my thoughts are quickly drawn into contemplation of technological momentum. Sure Facebook is relatively new (I suppose this term itself needs some defining -- when does a technology become enmeshed in society? is there a time frame? can we make clear distinctions between the old and new? well, if i may answer for hughes, i believe he would simply state that it is all contingent upon context. not just an apparent philosophical copout,  this explanation reiterates how closely the social and technical become overtime. does society shape facebook? does facebook shape society? umm...ponder that for a moment)

Claire Potter (of Tenured Radical) offers another contemplative look at the problem--technoscience fix--new (maybe different) problem cycle. We seem fixated with the idea that we can invent our way out of hard work (generally speaking -- the idea that science and technology [or technoscience if you like] can [and perhaps should] work to improve our standard of living; better living through technology; reifying the concept of progress). As Potter points out, every great invention/innovation/technological change is accompanied by a series of challenge. Work streamlining and productivity technologies, well now we can do more work. Great. The conversation then quickly moves into management of new technologies (and there associated and oft unexpected complications -- similar to our in-class discussion about data management), which seems to inevitably lead to new technologies. A fix for the fix. Will the cycle ever end? Can it (non-catastrophically) end? I suppose it is one thing on in an academic workload setting, but something entirely different in the inner chamber of the military-industrial complex.

Granted this hasn't discussed Wiener and Licklider to any great extent (at least not by name, don't worry, their both in the earlier portion of the post), but wait...it all flows together within the stream of my thoughts.

Segue...my STS colleague (Tim Jennings) recently presented a fascinating paper about human biological enhancement (e.g. cyborgs) and the contemporary definition (or work to define) the human-technology relationship. Really interesting stuff. Not entirely Wiener/Licklider, but definitely relevant to our forthcoming (I assume at least that folks will have lots to say) discussions about cybernetics. Tim's paper builds on Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, Andy Clark, etc -- teasing out the epistemological and discursive consequences of many normative assumptions about human-technology relationship, hybridity, etc. That said, since it is a work in progress, I am reluctant to distribute the paper here. If you are interested in learning more, let me know and I can put you in contact with Tim.