Technology is Culture
Mike Travers
Refactor Camp 2014
Humans ?¿ Technology
• Do humans control technology,
Or the other way around?
• Wrong Question
• Neither
• Both
Wrong Question
• Technology is [part of] culture.
• We’re prejudiced because “culture” seems to
be in a different universi...
Neither
• Agency is a fiction
• Nothing controls anything
• Humans and technology are part of the same
evolving process
Both
• Humans are agents, technology is agents,
everything is agents
• Actor-Network Theory
(Bruno Latour, sociology of sc...
Latour against everyday dichotomies
• “Truth and falsehood. Large and small. Agency
and structure. Human and non-human. Be...
Autonomous Technology
• Not a new idea…
• (Langdon Winner,
1997)
• “Do Artifacts Have
Politics?” (LW, 1980)
Example: The Internet
• an open and decentralized systems
• because of conscious design decisions,
• not because of any in...
Extreme Historical Irony
• The open Internet was the creation of a
massively centralized state bureaucracy (post
WWII defe...
tl;dr – Technology has Politics
• Technology doesn’t happen free of political
and social influences.
• These are huge forc...
What do we do about that?
• We are in charge as much as anyone
• It is a professional responsibility to take into
account ...
End
Epigraph
Putting the control inside was ratifying what de facto had
already happened — that you had dispensed with God.
Bu...
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Technology is Culture (Refactor Camp 2014)

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Flaming the Refactor Camp attendees about social responsibility, technology and culture, Bruno Latour, Thomas Pynchon.

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Technology is Culture (Refactor Camp 2014)

  1. 1. Technology is Culture Mike Travers Refactor Camp 2014
  2. 2. Humans ?¿ Technology • Do humans control technology, Or the other way around? • Wrong Question • Neither • Both
  3. 3. Wrong Question • Technology is [part of] culture. • We’re prejudiced because “culture” seems to be in a different university department. • But culture is no more or less than what humans do and make.
  4. 4. Neither • Agency is a fiction • Nothing controls anything • Humans and technology are part of the same evolving process
  5. 5. Both • Humans are agents, technology is agents, everything is agents • Actor-Network Theory (Bruno Latour, sociology of science) • Science (eg) is a network of “bacillus, microscope, laboratory, funding agency, food industry” (Latour litany) • Humans and non-human actors considered in a single network (a “flat ontology”) • New scientific humanities MOOC http://bit.ly/1jAOJ2M
  6. 6. Latour against everyday dichotomies • “Truth and falsehood. Large and small. Agency and structure. Human and non-human. Before and after. Knowledge and power. Context and content. Materiality and sociality. Activity and passivity…all of these divides have been rubbished in work undertaken in the name of actor-network theory” (John Law 1999) His approach is the opposite of 2x2s
  7. 7. Autonomous Technology • Not a new idea… • (Langdon Winner, 1997) • “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” (LW, 1980)
  8. 8. Example: The Internet • an open and decentralized systems • because of conscious design decisions, • not because of any inevitable evolution of technology • There were walled-garden competitors; they failed not because of any technological reason • And its political structure is being renegotiated today (net neutrality, NSA backdoors, etc).
  9. 9. Extreme Historical Irony • The open Internet was the creation of a massively centralized state bureaucracy (post WWII defense research) • Hated by both progressives and libertarians, and with good reasons • The libertarian do-what-you-please SV culture is trying to yank us back into walled gardens where the public sphere is privately owned.
  10. 10. tl;dr – Technology has Politics • Technology doesn’t happen free of political and social influences. • These are huge forces, nonetheless we are part of them and have a human obligation to influence them • “Obligation” in a stronger-than-moral sense – we can’t help having and expressing opinions about this stuff.
  11. 11. What do we do about that? • We are in charge as much as anyone • It is a professional responsibility to take into account the social consequences of technology. • The more software eats the world, the more technologists are in charge of society – we better get good at it.
  12. 12. End
  13. 13. Epigraph Putting the control inside was ratifying what de facto had already happened — that you had dispensed with God. But you had taken on a greater, and more harmful, illusion. The illusion of control. That A could do B. But that was false. Completely. No one can do. Things only happen, A and B are unreal, are names for parts that ought to be inseparable... — Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

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