Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Can we question the impact of technologies without fear of marginalization?

I admit I've been stewing about this for some time. So here's my rant. Having evolved right along with technology, embracing and exploiting it at every opportunity, I consider myself a 'digital settler,' to steal John Palfrey's term from his book, Born Digital. I was not born into a digital world, like digital natives. And I don't identify with the term digital immigrant, which suggests someone out of their element. Rather, I feel that I and many of my generation have been the engines of change. We've been involved in designing the technological landscape where we now dwell. I have the utmost awe for our current information age and the technology available to us.

And yet I nonetheless have an intellectual curiosity about the true, enduring impact of technology on our culture. Where is all of this exciting, empowering and wonderful stuff leading us? How is it affecting our ability to develop interpersonal relationships? Is it changing the way we process information and create new knowledge?  How is it changing our concepts of time? Place? Is multi-tasking a valuable skill or a character flaw? Can we, from an evolutionary standpoint, continue on this trajectory or will there be a regression? Will we hit the wall?

Too often I feel that this kind of inquiry is readily dismissed as ludditism or change resistance or fear mongering. Two recent posts have me thinking about this again.

In a post by Simon Fodden on Slaw I was fascinated to learn that there continue to be competing theories about what the original Luddites were really protesting. Were they simply opposing the mechanization and modernization of fabric making or was there something deeper behind their actions? Another post last week by Kent Anderson over at the Scholarly Kitchen argued that concerns about the possible effects of the internet are really just power struggles between those who seek to retain control of the message and the medium.

I think engaging in continued and open dialogue about the impact of technology is necessary and desirable. We put ourselves at great risk when we chill discourse in blind devotion to the wonders of technology. End of rant.

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