Notes for our presentation today

Prepared by Andy and me:

XKCD: I’m Not an Idiot

Langdon Winner’s blog

essays on the philosophy of technology

1. What does Winner mean by “technological somnambulism” (10)?

2. Why is Winner’s book still so relevant? Why haven’t we moved beyond some of the basic questions he’s asked?

3. His question, not as rhetorical as he’d hoped: Do artifacts have politics?

Winner defines politics as “arrangements of power and authority in human associations as well as the activities that take place within those arrangements” (22). He writes, “to say that some technologies are inherently political is to say that certain widely accepted reasons of practical necessity — especially the need to maintain crucial technological systems as smoothly working entities — have tended to eclipse other sorts of moral and political reasoning” (36).

4. Is there a problem with the word “values”? How about the notion that “humanist intellectuals are often called upon to instruct engineers, planners, and decision makers as to what the ‘good’ values are” (Winner 160)?

5. Winner argues that technology is a “conservative influence” (Winner 139), especially because the primary ethical consideration for adapting technologies is “risk.” Do you agree that the adaptation of technology is often conservative?

“Are there no shared ends that matter to us any longer than the desire to be affluent while avoiding the risk of cancer? It may be that the answer is no. The prevailing consensus seems to be that people love a life of high consumption, tremble at the thought that it might end, and are displeased about having to clean up the messes that modern technologies sometimes bring. To argue a moral position convincingly these days requires that one speak to (and not depart from) people’s love of material well-being, their fascination with efficiency, or their fear of death” (Winner 51-52).

6. Does “mythinformation” still prevail? How are Selfe and Faigley responding to mythinformation?

7. The book title question: Revolution, Democracy, and Literacy: Or, What Do We Value (With [dis]Respect to Winner)?

Relevant passages:

“[T]hese technologies may be the most profound when they disappear, but — it is exactly when this happens that they also develop the most potential for being dangerous” (Selfe 435, emphasis in original).

“[C]ontinuing to argue for a vision of literacy for participation in democratic community life, civic engagement, and social justice feels like swimming against the current” (Faigley 34).

“Calling such changes ‘revolutionary,’ we tacitly acknowledge that these are matters that require reflection, possibly even strong public action to ensure that the outcomes are desirable. But the occasions for reflection, debate, and public choice are extremely rare indeed” (Winner 117).

Faigley, Lester. “Literacy After the Revolution.” CCC 48.1 (Feb. 1997): 30-43.

Selfe, Cynthia L. “Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention.” CCC 50.3 (Feb. 1999): 411-436.
Winner, Langdon. The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986.

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2 Responses to Notes for our presentation today

  1. Lani says:

    Regarding the video of the students in class, I wonder how much time they spend in face to face conversation with one another where the full range of communicative possibilities are open to them – facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, touching. They did not mention this. I think that’s sad.

  2. Ira Socol says:

    I still think we struggle with defining the word “technology.”

    Technology includes the roof over our heads, and our clothing. The fireplace is a radical human technological accomplishment – so, in fact – let us recall Prometheus – is controlled fire itself.

    Cave paintings are technology. Surely every alphabet or ideogrammatic system is also. As are flags, books, the printing press, paper and papyrus, the wagons which allowed Paine’s “Common Sense” to be widely distributed. In communications technology especially, each technological step is – in many ways – a step away from face to face. The “book” in Calvinist/Gutenberg culture, replaced the face-to-face priest to congregant individual interpretation and the face-to-face troubadour performance, and eventually the town crier and a great deal of face-to-face gossip via newspapers. All these technologies also tended to centralize control of communications – think of Hearst, Reuters, RCA/NBC, the three publishing conglomerates which now control 80% of shelf space at Barnes and Nobel.

    Many of us, philosophically, truly believe that 21st century technologies actually have the ability the move us back, out of Calvin/Gutenberg, to a more “natural,” more “personal,” and much more individualised structure of communications and education.

    A revolution? Certainly. What it means? Ask in 50 years.

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