When living in a society which is so totally focused on progress and development it is sobering to note the other perspectives. A story in Guardian refers to David Edgerton’s “The Shock of the Old” and gives us something to think about.
Guardian Unlimited | The age of technological revolution is 100 years dead:
To Edgerton the thesis that civilisation must innovate or die is rubbish. Nations are not sharks that must move to breathe. Yet we are so dazzled by newness as to lose the power of scepticism, indeed of reason itself. The result is a grotesque overselling of the new and neglect of what is tried and tested.
Edgerton is implicitly underlining a couple of the most important lessons for technology forecasters:
- it is not the technology development that change the world, it’s the technology diffusion
- it is not the functionality or potential use of a technology or an invention that change the world, it’s if and how people chose to use it that matters
- people in general do not base their choice or use of a product or service on it’s potential but on their perceptions of its functionality and potential value (and on many other social factors)
- people in general perceive products and services as extensions or modifications to already existing concepts – when concepts become mental or cultural objects they get stuck and stifles change
- innovations that threatens existing power structures meet resistance
- innovations that don’t fit in to the current structures and the current logic takes much longer time to diffuse (if ever)
In short its people’s perception and social structures that matters. Our obsession with progress seems to trick some of us into misconceive potentiality for reality and this tendency makes us frustrated about how fast things seems to change but also blind to how, if and when change really takes place.
Read Guardian Unlimited | The age of technological revolution is 100 years dead and sober up!
From IFTF Future Now – “Go read this“
2 thoughts on “Thought provoking read”
Jenkins’ take on technologic “progress” is clear. But what about social progress? “We watch the future”, he writes, “and have stopped watching the present.” Insofar as I accept his claim that “we” (whoever “we” are) are making a mistake, I offer another opinion: We watch the technical, and fail to watch the social, the political, and the civil. We watch the technology of the elite, and have ignored that of the marginalized, the impoverished, and the victimized. Jenkins rejects neophilia, but does he also reject the rampant injustice of the “old” and especially of the present? His rhetoric inches treacherously close to reverence for our present material conditions. Yet the material basis of our present civilization is on the brink of failure! Jenkins is welcome to wallow in the nostalgia of primitive, dirty twentieth century technology. But if that sort of discourse gets in the way of demanding a brighter, greener world–one in which renewable energy can power the prosperity of billions, one where digital networks can transform our cultures and economies, and where democracy and human rights can flourish with the help of collaborative communication and institutions–then critical neophilia (or, better yet, a simply progressive attitude) is a sorely needed repost. Jenkins grabs our artifacts, holds them before us, and tries (with debatable success) to tell us they haven’t changed much and they haven’t changed us much. My point is that they obviously haven’t changed enough; the moral crisis in which we find ourselves should, indeed, compel us to make cleaner, more humane artifacts. (Of course, as I imagine Jenkins would agree, we should also use them more wisely.) My hope is that improving our things–our machines, gizmos, products–might position us to more easily improve our selves and our social lives.
Maybe both Jonathan and Jenkins are correct. Maybe the difference between watching the technical part of our society closely and failing to adequately watch the social, political, and civil part is the same between a technological puzzle and a social, political, and civil mystery.
Technology is that part of a society that is a puzzle, while the social, political and civil is a mystery. Technology needs more information; the relations inside a society needs less or has too much information.
Another way of looking at this is that the relationships inside a society (the social, political and civil) are complex and the technical parts are simple. While our minds are not really geared to think this way, it is mostly true: technology is mostly simple when given enough information; relationships are mostly complex the more information we are given.
Given this, what it seems we need is to make our technology more complex and our lives less so. I can see this happening as more people connect through technology they build relationships, which in a way makes technology more complex. But these relationships are, at the same time, being destroyed with the use of technology that tries to limit these relationships.
On the other hand, these relationships within our society need less information (truth) and more simple trust, or at least more trust building instead of the tearing down of trust. I guess the real test of this trust building using technology would be in studying technological creatures such as ebay, where trust is king.
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