In chapter three of Culture + Technology, Wise simply breaks down technological determinism and cultural determinism. Wise brings up Langdon Winner’s book, Autonomous Technology, and summarizes it with, “In a fundamental sense, of course, determining things is what technology is all about.”
Here’s a quick explanation of how Slack interprets Winner’s thoughts:
- Technological Determinism: technology is understood to have effects and those effects are the principle determinant of cultural change; the belief that the technical base of a society is the fundamental condition affecting all patterns of social existence (technology is central to defining what culture is) and the belief that technological change is the single most important source of change in society (technologies have effects and these effects are the primary cause of cultural change).
- Cultural Determinism: the belief that the values, feelings, beliefs, and practices of the culture cause particular technoliges to be developed and used and the belief that changes in culture result in changes in technology.
In the argument for technological determinism, I loved that Wise brought up Plato’s concern for the technology of writing to eventually cause people to lose their memory skills. The great philosopher’s hesitation with the technology of writing, which is extremely basic in comparison to the technology of the iPhone (I can easily argue that my iPhone has caused me to not have my own boyfriend’s phone number memorized-YIKES!), has seriously manifested in my own life through the hundreds of journals that have kept thousands of memories that, unfortunately, my brain has not.
Wise states that the “effect of thinking in a cultural determinist way is the displacement of responsibility totally away from technology.” and the “effect of thinking in a technological determinist position is thinking technology is totally to blame and culture is let entirely off the hook.” In the end, when deciding which determinism you will side with, Wise thinks of it as a “Hobson’s choice”: choosing between options whose differences are superficial. It is seen as superficial because both sides have equally great arguments and counter-arguments. The author then finishes with stating that they do not want us to choose between the two determinisms, but only be aware of their existence and pervasiveness in our daily discourse.
The fourth chapter discusses control in a way that (shhh..don’t tell anyone..) is almost redundant and unnecessary. The author tries to parallel the problems we face with technology with the 1818 story from Mary Shelley about Dr. Frankenstein, and this is something I want to respond to by saying, “Duh!”
Though her argument changes course slightly into historian Lewis Mumford’s megatechnics, explaining that society is like a “well-integrated megamachine”, and then she goes all the way down the rabbit hole to a discussion on trust and artificial intelligence, her concluding remarks may redeem her because she basically throws her hands up at her own thoughts. I love this quote that really tells us to stop chasing answers that are not there and start thinking of new questions:
It is time to shift our focus away from the issues of control, dependence, and trust (as well as from causality, progress, and convenience), to think about technology in new ways, to pose new questions, and find, perhaps, new answers. (Slack, 2005)
Nice try guys. Nice try.