Out of the questions proposed for the weekly assignment, the one that caught my attention was the one related to analyzing the reasons why devices like a tablet or a smartphone are “black-boxed” and I wanted to make a connection between this question and the ideas of combinatorial evolution, structure and modularity that Arthur expresses in “The Nature of Technology. What It is and How It Evolves”.
I have more questions than things that I can understand and explain about what we read but there’s a few observations I’d like to address. First, I found it interesting how, right at the beginning, he makes a comparison between how technology comes to be and heredity. How there really isn’t a complete “novel” technology that came out of nowhere but that, if we look deep into its components, not only we will find that it’s made out of previous existing technologies that haven’t been put together before, but also its made of different modules that are in communication with each other to serve a principle or purpose. This pattern can be applied also to each module, made of different technologies that interact in the same way. He also made a quick comparison to biology and the bodies of different animals which I thought was very interesting and made it clearer for me. He also stated that the evolution of this combination of different parts is not just randomly putting everything together, connecting it and making it work. He said that there must be a principle, or driving force, that propels these different technologies to come together. Or for us, to put them together, in that way the evolution happens in the mind before it can happen physically.
All of these ideas were very interesting and I tried to apply them to different aspects of life that are not necessarily technological (although, through this perspective we could say that everything is connected to everything, and in a way everything is technological). It made me think that we can apply this theory to society, human relationships, ancestry and even patriotism (which would be a whole different paper). But it also made me think about the evolution of “new” technologies and design. And please forgive me if I’m using both of these terms in the wrong way, I’m stating these questions from my idea of what technology is and what design is, and I could be very wrong.
What are the dynamics between technology advances/evolution and function/principle and then on design? When I think about the technology I have on my hands and its predecessors, the reasoning that comes to mind is that its parts came together first because of principle (there was a need for something that brought them together) and later on it keeps changing through design. What I mean by design is that once all these parts are sometimes loosely put together to perform a function, then the design of these modules evolves to make it easier to perform said function (which can also be seen as an evolution of the module’s technology too). Then, through time and use, the technologies become more accesible or easier to manipulate and combine them with other technologies, therefore becoming a module inside a “new” technology. I know I might be separating technology from design where there’s probably no distinction. But if there is an order, where does that order come from? is it because of design that we can combine technologies in a more efficient way until its previous components become obsolete by themselves? Or is the principle the propels the technologies to advance to the point of having enough things in common to be put together to perform a “new” purpose?
And then, to bring it together with the concept of black-boxing. If the “Phenomena” (pag. 7) that Arthur mentions and the human factor are connected and interacting with this process, then what is the principle/purpose of deliberately black-boxing technology? That is, if we put the concept of black-boxing through the same lens we’re putting technology: look at its heredity, its modules and the principle of it existing.
Arthur, B. (n.d.). The Nature of Technology: What it is and How It Evolves. Free Press A Division of Simon & Schuster (2009).