Technology is Culture (Refactor Camp 2014)

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Information about Technology is Culture (Refactor Camp 2014)

Published on March 4, 2014

Author: mtraven



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

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 university department. • But culture is no more or less than what humans do and make.

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 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

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

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 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).

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.

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.

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.


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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