There’s a tricky balancing act to play when thinking about the relative influence of technological artifacts and the humans who create and use these artifacts. It’s all too easy to blame technologies or alternatively, discount their shaping effects.
Both Marshall McLuhan and Actor Network Theorists (ANT) insist on the efficaciousness of technological objects. These objects do things, and as researchers, we should take those things seriously. In response to the popular adage that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” ANT scholar Bruno Latour famously retorts:
It is neither people nor guns that kill. Responsibility for action must be shared among the various actants
From this perspective, failing to take seriously the active role of technological artifacts, assuming instead that everything hinges on human practice, is to risk entrapment by those artifacts that push us in ways we cannot understand or recognize. Speaking of media technologies, McLuhan warns:
Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for their human users.
This, they get right. Technology is not merely a tool of human agency, but pushes, guides, and sometimes traps users in significant ways. And yet both McLuhan and ANT have been justly criticized as deterministic. Technologies may shape those who use them, but humans created these artifacts, and humans can—and do— work around them. more...