It is pretty easy to mistake most technologies as politically neutral. For example, there is nothing inherently radical or conservative about a hammer. Washing machines don’t necessarily impose capitalism on whoever uses one, and televisions have nothing to do with communism. You might hear about communism through television, and there is certainly no shortage of politically motivated programming out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that says the technology itself has a certain kind of politics. This sort of thinking (combined with other everyday non-actions) is what philosopher of technology Langdon Winner (@langdonw) calls technological somnambulism: the tendency of most people to, “willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence.” It is difficult to see the politics in technology because those politics are so pervasive. The fact that technological artifacts have politics is kind of like Call Me Maybe, once you’re exposed, it is hard to get it out of your head. (more…)
Science and Technology studies scholars have long understood that the physical structures and architectures of everyday life both reflect and construct human values, propensities, lines of action, and behavioral and social constraints. This was famously described by Langdon Winner with regards to the segregationist role of Robert Moses’ low bridges on the New York highway system. Recently on this blog, David Banks (@DA_Banks) wrote a beautiful essay on the technology, and technological artifacts of Troy New York. Indeed, the architectures of spaces in which we move shape how we move and reflect normative expectations about how we ought to move. (more…)
Before Zuccotti, before UC Davis, there was the G8 Summit in Seattle, 1999. Image c/o Wikimedia Commons
I am really pleased to see academics tackling the problems of ineffective activism and capitalist oppression. Overcoming such large and complicated problems means trying out every tool in the tool shed. That is why Levi R. Bryant’s ”McKenzie Wark: How Do You Occupy an Abstraction?” is so important. It is one of many efforts by academics to apply their reasoning to an active social movement. His recommendations are quite brazen. Bryant writes: ”You want to topple the 1% and get their attention? Don’t stand in front of Wall Street and bitch at bankers and brokers, occupy a highway. Hack a satellite and shut down communications. Block a port. Erase data banks, etc. Block the arteries; block the paths that this hyperobject requires to sustain itself.” The ends that Bryant suggests are intriguing. They certainly demand bigger and better things from the Occupy movement, but the means by which he reaches these conclusions are severely problematic. I think they neglect to consider the full effects of such actions and I attribute this oversight to his choice of analytic tools: object-oriented ontologies, new materialism, and actor network theory.
Last month the Heartland Institute, a climate-denying “think tank,” plastered Ted “The Unabomber” Kaczynski’s scowling face on a series of billboards in Chicago.
I still believe in global warming,” the copy read. “Do you?
Kaczynski has long been the figurative poster boy for technophobic insanity, of course, but the Heartland Institute made it literal. The billboard campaign was quickly recognized as a miscalculation and withdrawn, but it served as a reminder of what a gift Kaczynski turned out to be for some of the very enemies he sought to destroy. It also served as a reminder of how egregiously he misused the ideas of a philosopher who is revered as a genius by many people, myself included.
I refer to Jacques Ellul, author of The Technological Society. Ellul died 18 years ago last month; this year marks the hundredth anniversary of his birth. (more…)
I want to start out by saying that “liberatory” is not in the standard OS X spell check dictionary. There aren’t even spelling suggestions. It is totally foreign. I think that’s telling. Also, our blog’s CSS prevents us from giving our entries long titles. The Title is part of the story, so let me put it in a more readable format:
Black Box Tactics: The Liberatory Potential of Obscuring The Inner Workings of Technology
There we go. Now where was I? Oh right, I haven’t started yet. Let me do that: (more…)
I took the liberty of making a new meme: "Censorship Sandworm". http://memegenerator.net/Censorship-Sandworm
“I must rule with eye and claw — as the hawk among lesser birds.”
-Duke Leo Atreides in Book 1: Dune
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that what the scientists are saying about global warming – that we are headed for all manner of catastrophic changes in the environment unless fossil fuel emissions are drastically reduced, immediately – is accurate.
Also for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the world’s political leaders and the citizens they represent are sane, and that, therefore, they would like to avoid those catastrophic changes in the environment.
Assuming both propositions to be true, it would seem reasonable to ask ourselves whether it’s possible to take the necessary actions that would forestall those changes. In order to answer yes to that question we will need to overcome a series of challenges that can collectively be described as technological autonomy.
Technological autonomy is a shorthand way of expressing the idea that our technologies and technological systems have become so ubiquitous, so intertwined, and so powerful that they are no longer in our control. This autonomy is due to the accumulated force of the technologies themselves and also to our utter dependence on them. (more…)
Technologies are, by nature, biased. They are biased by the humans who create them. They are biased by the cultures in which they are produced. They are biased by the perceived needs of intended consumers and they are biased by agentic practices of consumption. A recent TEDMED talk (Why Hospital Rooms Don’t Work) by architect Michael Graves highlights the biased nature of technologies. Specifically, he demonstrates the embeddedness of privilege.
Michael Graves is a renowned architect. In 2003, Graves developed a rare (and still mysterious) illness that left him paralyzed. While fighting the illness and then undergoing rehabilitation, Graves spent a significant amount of time in hospitals. He found the facilities not only to be aesthetically displeasing, but impractical and sometimes downright inaccessible for a person with mobility impairments. He describes unreachable light switches and faucet handles, rooms so small that maneuverability is impossible, really ugly floral patterns, and an overall requirement that he, as a person in a wheelchair, ask for help with tasks that he should be able to complete independently. Summarizing these shortcomings he says: (more…)