Technology as a force for better or worse

In his short paper ‘The Paradoxical Future of Digital Learning‘, Mark Warschauer highlights three areas where the implications of digital technology on education are not as straightforward as many have assumed. Essentially;

  • new (multimedia) literacy seems to be making traditional literacies obsolete, BUT traditional literacies seem to be necessary to be ‘scaffolded’ by new literacies
  • technology gives us the ability to learn autonomously, BUT we learn to do so best within a supportive face-to-face environment
  • life-long self-managed learning outside of the classroom holds great social promise, BUT the impact of formal education on our lives is increasing not decreasing

Warschauer distinguishes two perspectives on digital technology, drawing on Andrew Feenberg’s book ‘Critical Theory of Technology‘;

  • technological determinism – technology itself will inherently bring about change
  • technological instrumentalism – technologies are tools with which we can bring about change

To these he adds a critical view, which sees technology as (yet another) contested site for “struggle between social forces” (p.47). His aim appears to be to encourage us not to take digital technology (and its impact) for granted, but to realise that this is part of a broader, complex process of becoming which we can shape – but only if we appreciate the many forces at work.

This view of technology seems to echo Felix Guattari, in ‘Chaosmosis‘, when he suggested that the impact of technology on society “can work for the better or the worse” (p.5);

“It’s impossible to judge such machinic evolution either positively or negatively; everything depends on its articulation within collective assemblages of enunciation [in short, ‘what we do with it’]. At best there is creation, or invention, of new Universes of reference; at worst there is the deadening influence of the mass media to which millions of individuals are currently condemned.”

Guattari has a fairly negative view of (mass) media (he is writing in the early 1990s here), but a clear desire for how media can be a force for good;

“Technological developments together with social experimentation in these new domains [in short: the new possibilities opened up by technological evolution] are perhaps capable of leading us out of the current period of oppression and into a post-media era characterised by the reappropriation and resingularisation of the use of media.”

If we are to embrace Guattari’s vision of a more individual and empowered relationship with media, is gives us some direction as to the way that it must be incorporated into educational environments. This would suggest a much more critical approach to media, and one that depositions media as something for students to ‘consume’, instead empowering them with the means of media production (for an interesting take on what this might look like, check out etoy.CORPORATION’s e-toy.DAY-CARE project).

Gosh, I came over all pseudo-Marxist there. Well that’s Felix for you.

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