Thursday, November 14, 2013

Utopias & Dystopias: Ideas

Chandler, D. (2002). Technological determinism. Web essay, Media and Communications Studies, University of Aberystwyth. Download as PDF. 
(, but we are also providing it as a PDF. An alternative, web-based version is available via the Wayback Machine.) 

Chandler’s web essay explores the concept and history of technological determinism, which he defines as ‘seek[ing] to explain social and historical phenomena in terms of one principal or determining factor’ - technology. Chandler calls this theory ‘reductive’, and points out that as a way of understanding social phenomena, reductionism is often criticised as being overly simplistic. This is especially the case when determinists become ‘technocentric’ - ‘trying to account for almost everything in terms of technology'. He introduces concepts such as ‘reification’; ‘autonomy’; and ‘universalism’, as elements of technological determinism. Importantly for our purposes, he also indicates how we can identify when a determinist position is being taken, even if an author or speaker doesn’t make it explicit: 

The assumptions of technological determinism can usually be easily spotted in frequent references to the 'impact' of technological 'revolutions' which 'led to' or 'brought about', 'inevitable', 'far reaching', 'effects', or 'consequences' or assertions about what 'will be' happening 'sooner than we think' 'whether we like it or not'.
The resources below contain some language like this, and you will probably start to notice it elsewhere. The relationship between technological determinism and utopian and dystopian accounts is one we’d like you to consider and discuss as you engage in the readings and films during the rest of this week and next week.

Dahlberg, L (2004). Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 9/3. (a few people have noted they are having troubling accessing this open-access article, so we have uploaded it as a PDF as well)

Now that you know more about technological determinism, you may find it useful to explore two other perspectives that are common in discussions about the web and e-learning. Dahlberg describes three orientations towards the internet: 
·       Uses determination: technology is shaped and takes meaning from how individuals and groups choose to use it. Technology itself is neutral. An example of this way of thinking can be seen in the educational mantra: ‘The pedagogy must lead the technology’.
·       Technological determination: technology ‘produces new realities’, new ways of communicating, learning and living, and its effects can be unpredictable. This is the position Chandler explores in detail in our core reading.

·       Social determination: technology is determined by the political and economic structures of society. Questions about ownership and control are key in this orientation.

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