Section Two - How does technology change people?
A story about a paradise for nerds (15 minutes)
Some philosopher dudes
Martin Heidegger was a Nazi. He was also a brilliant philosopher and one of the first that thought about technology. He stated that tools (technology) are only tools when you start using them. A hammer is not a tool when you look at it, but only a tool when you use the hammer to drive a nail into the wall. The ‘funny’ thing is that the hammer disappears from your experience. You are not looking at the hammer, but at the nail. Through the hammer you make contact with reality.
So technology determines how we see the world.
Another philosopher, Don Ihde, argued that technology should be included in the bosom of philosophy. After all, our understanding of the world is determined by the technology with which we surround ourselves. Dutch philosopher of technology, Peter-Paul Verbeek, built on the work of Don Ihde and introduced the Mediation Theory. In this animation of 6 minutes he will explain it to you:
The central idea of the Mediation Theory is that technologies, when they are used, help to shape the relations between human beings and the world. Churchill once famously said: we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us'. But the same can be said for technology. We human beings, as we have seen in chapter one, are technological beings.
We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us (and then, of course, we shape our tools again).
How technology changes us
To illustrate the things above let’s look at three examples on how our tools shape us.
First, we start with Wonderwoman, in this epic movie our heroine sails from her mythical island to London during World War I. There she notices a man with a wristwatch and wonders (this is perhaps why she is called Wonderwoman) how a person can be a slave to such a small device? A device that says: it is time to eat, time to sleep, time to work. In this video of 3 minutes we see how the world started to run like clockwork.
And how we did too.
Second, we take a look at Marshall McLuhan. He stated in his book Understanding Media (1964) that The Medium is the Message. Meaning that what has been communicated (message) has been less important than the particular medium through which people communicate.
An explanation in this 2 minute video.
In a second book (1967) he explained himself further. This book was called The Medium is the Massage.
Quick question: What do you think? What did he mean by this? Was this pun intended?
Quick answer: We really do not know. Maybe he meant 'Mass Age' or 'massage' because the medium forms us? Or maybe it was just a mistake that inspired inspector Jacques Clouseau 15 years later?
Optional video (1 minute):
Quick assignment (1): think about how Twitter 'massaged' us.
Quick assignment (2): think about how Spotify massaged the way we experience music & music itself.
Quick assignment (3): think about how Netflix massaged the way we experience series/music & series/music itself.
Or what about our screens? Is there are connection between the introduction of television and the QAnon Shaman? Did you experience the mobbing of the capitol completely different from an episode of House of Cards?
"The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining" - Neil Postman.
Finally, for a more recent example, we introduce Stewart Brand. He is an American Writer, he loves LSD and he is a great inspiration for people like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Stewart Brand once said:
“You can try to change people’s minds, but you’re just wasting your time on that. What you can do is change the tools they use. Do it and you will change civilization." - Stewart Brand
Technology changes people and by doing so changes society. The importance of this statement can be illustrated by looking at the most important changes in our technology over the last 30 years and how they changed us. How the people that created these technologies created a Paradise for Nerds (video below – 2 minutes).
So, maybe, in the past 30 years some white engineers solved their problems and in doing so they changed us and they changed society. Technology changes people, but it is people who create technology. In a way that means that people that create technology change people. Being a programmer, designer or inventer also means you have to think about the impact of technology and you will have to be able to think about ethics.
Technology changes people. This means that engineers are doing ethics by other means - PP Verbeek.
That is exactly why the Technology Impact Cycle Tool is so important.
This also means that technology leads to new ethical questions. That is the topic of section three.
Take aways from section two:
- When technologies are used they shape the relations between human beings and the world;
- We shape our tools and our tools shape us;
- People that shape technology are, in fact, shaping other people;
- Designing technology is doing ethics by other means;
- That is why, maybe, we live in a paradise for nerds.