The Nature of Technology: Could we change it if we wanted to?

We spend years interfacing with technology. Clearly if you’re reading this, you have access to the internet but what of electricity, cars, books, hammers and wheels? It all qualifies as technology. In terms of digital technologies, this volume of interaction seems certain to increase for the foreseeable future.

But what is this technology we spoke so regularly of?

We want our children to blog and learn code, develop personal learning networks and create with 3D software and printers but where do we stand on how it impacts on us? We are analog, social creatures. Though we talk at great lengths of the marvel of our evermore connected world, possibilities for collaboration and connectivism, the truth is that these are not the same sort of humanistic interactions that necessarily result in greater personal relations and connection. Working with emerging technologies to learn how they work and support us creatively does not address the human context in which they are operating. What about the bigger humanistic and societal questions?

  • Do we need all of the technologies we have?
    • How do we decide?
  • How are these technologies developed?
    • Who decides?
  • Does our growing reliance on digital technologies change us?
    • Does it change how we interact with others?
      • For better or for worse?
        • How so?
        • Could we change it if we wanted to?
  • Do we drive the technology or does it drive us?

Since our technology has always been a reiterative force on human thinking and development how does its ever-increasing pace of development impact on us?

Metaphorical Nature of Technology

This post is not about the evils of technology. Far from it.

It is about understanding:

  1. the nature of technology (Thou art that), and;
  2. the reiterative nature of our relationship with our technology

The Nature of Technology

Technology moves fast. This is a fundamental part of its nature. It is reiterative. Recursive. Present growth increases the rate of future growth. It snowballs… avalanches. With each new technology we further strengthen the metaphor of the human need to use elements of our environment to further manipulate it and take our metaphorical development ever further; Be it a physical manifestation enabled by our abstract thought processes allowing us to cure polio or something more completely abstract helping us create expressive art through digital manipulation of light or sound, each new expression compounds on previous creations producing a synergy that spurs continual progress at an increasingly faster pace.

This growth has risen to such a pace as to render it impossible to keep up with it. It has altered the course of human history, giving way to new epochs from agrarian to industrial to information ages. As the advent of the printing press removed the dominance of memory and oral traditions to authorship and the written word, so too has the pace of knowledge creation demanded we bow to and embrace connectivism and other means of managing something as basic as knowledge!

While technology comes from us it also acts on us and changes the landscape of human activity and even the way we live and learn. Should we perhaps now pause and wonder if the cart has jumped ahead of the horse? At the very least, should we not be considering what it means for the future of human interaction? Would we not be better served by planning for these social changes by trying to understand them even as they are taking place?

In many ways, society doesn’t just happen, it is made. If the technology we must create has now tipped the scales of influence in our symbiotic relationship in its own favour we must consider what this means at the micro level if we ever hope to extrapolate wider trends.

It is time to enact curriculum that asks tough questions like, “How can we design new technologies (metaphors for us) before deciding which new one to learn?” By thinking in this way we take back the control to some degree and are less swept away by the last iteration.

Or, more simply put, how important is it to understand how the technology we create, in turn, affects us?

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About Sean Thompson

Sean has accepted a position as the Director of Technology at The Early Learning Centre, City School, in Bangkok. He is excited to be working with Giovanni Piazza and the rest of the staff to raise awareness of digital-age teaching and learning practice in this Reggio Emilia inspired environment. Sean is also an Apple Distinguished Educator, an International Baccalaureate Educator Network Workshop Leader and a Google Educator available for professional development at your school.
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