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[Xmca-l] Re: Why Computers Make So Little Difference



Hi Annalisa,

I wonder if the role of culture is not so much in determining how we do use tools as into how we should be wary of using tools.  Culture is by its nature I think centripetal in nature.  Tools, especially such as the Internet tend to be centrifugal.   Should we depend on culture to put constraints on our uses. 

There is a phrase I first heard two years ago that now I seem to hear every other week,  "If you have a really good hammer, everything starts to look like a nail."  Really good technologies start to make everything look like a nail it seems - especially in our medicine show society where we run towards the next barker/grafter before we are done cursing out the last for the damage he/she has done. 

I think in this sense Heidegger's "On the Question of Technology" is a profound mea culpa that every person working in technology should be forced to read and discuss on an annual basis - the dangers of becoming too enamored with the hammer.

Culture has its own dangers thought that I think we also must own up to.  It wants to stay a centripetal force, bring everything back in, keep things as they are.  The (perhaps dialectical) relationship between tools and culture - I think Vygotsky caught the mood, these are the things both dreams and nightmares are made of.

Michael
-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Annalisa Aguilar
Sent: Sunday, March 08, 2015 7:30 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Why Computers Make So Little Difference

Hi Michael,

Comparing the Internet to the printing press, they possess similarities, but it would be like comparing a worldwide shipping system (with trucks, trains, and ships, and docks, and longshore men, etc) to an Ancient Egyptian chariot. Perhaps. I say that since only certain people could enjoy chariots, which required at least a horse and a driver; not everyone had a printing press, or a book, and few could read. Nothing about the printing press itself that predicts distribution. That is more the desire for knowledge, and at that time it was combined with the desire to know the Bible. Other content came later. And then the judgements of who was allowed to learn to read and to write (as well as to read and to write what). 

It is an interesting project to compare them, however. 

I would like to emphasize what you said, Michael, that we still don't know what the Internet is doing to us. It is still not clear how the tool will change us: how we will augment to tool and how it will change us in the Möbius strip kind of way.

If it's OK, I would like to repeat something I said in the recent past that I think that even Marx (or Vygotsky) could predict the Internet. Seems Orwell was closer in some ways. In 1992, for example, I had no idea what the WWW was. In 1994 I learned about BBS, FTP, newsgroups, and email, though I know these tools were around a lot longer than when I learned of it. 

So if we can't know and we are here living through these developments in real time, how could Marx? How could Vygotsky? I believe there is a quality about these tools that does transcend their 19th and 20th century consciousnesses. Some things are going to be constant, say that humans still need food to eat. But do we need selfies? Do we need Facebook pages?

I liked your Mumfordesque comparison to clocks and how they changed our sense of time, and their creation of boundaries where there are actually none (or there are just signifiers of: sun out/sun not out). Of course, the clock also changed how we sleep, since we can do things later by lamplight (and later by lightbulb) and so we go to sleep later than we used to. 

This is to point out that it isn't a tool in isolation that changes us, but in the environment in which it appears, as well as other historic and cultural realities and also how one tool interacts with other tools and importantly with the people who use them. I take it everyone here already knows that, so I don't meant to belabor that and give the impression that I think you don't! :)

Kind regards,

Annalisa