Category Archives: Week 5

Technology as a Part of Disability Culture

Jalyn Marks

Technology and culture are as integrated as healthy eating and exercise, books and learning, churches and prayer. Technology fuels culture, technology aids culture, technology provides a home for culture. Not merely a tool to be mastered, technology mediates an action done by an actor (Latour).

“Action is simply not a property of humans but an association of actants” (Latour 182). For example, in disability culture, many individuals who are nonspeaking, speak minimally, or speak unreliably use a piece of technology called an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device (there are a bunch of different kinds). Disabled people who need to use AAC mostly use a personalized combination of unaided systems–systems where just the body can be used to generate communication–and aided systems–a tool or device is needed to communicate (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). AACs are examples of an “association of actants” by serving as a middleman, or as a mediator, between the AAC-user’s thoughts and other individuals. The person who uses the AAC is who Latour would refer to as the actor, and the AAC itself is the acting as a “technical delegate,” standing in as the “voice” of the actor (pp. 189). This idea of actors and delegates can be extended to other examples of technology integrated into disability culture, like wheelchairs, hearing aids, canes, and screen readers. “It is time to think them [culture and technology] systematically one by the other, one with the other” (Debray 4).

References

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aac/

Debray, R. (August 1999). What is mediology? (Martin Irvine, Trans.). Le Monde Diplomatique.

Latour, B. (1999).  Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Harvard University Press. pp. 174-217.

The iPhone and Latour’s Meanings of Mediation

“We may then be able, finally, to understand these nonhumans, which are, I have been claiming since the beginning, full-fledged actors in our collective; we may understand at last why we do not live in a society gazing out at a natural world or in a natural world that includes society as one of its components.” (Latour, 174)

One of the features of good design is that it becomes invisible and the user can instead focus on the task at hand rather than the instrument she uses. Yet it is the good design itself that results in black-boxing (though there are socio-cultural forces that are contributing, see Irvine, 1). De black-boxing then, at least in one way, entails understanding the mediating role of technologies.

Latour specifies four meanings of mediation and I would like to display these four meanings with the example of an iPhone. Let’s lay down the way Latour’s analysis applies to an iPhone and then we can look at the meanings of his terms. The iPhone entered the market of smartphones with the unique capacity to successfully integrate touchscreens with mobile computing.

With regard to mobile computing, Apple allied itself with the touchscreen technology (composition) and conveyed all that is needed for the realization of a convenient-to-use smartphone (delegation). After this, the iPhone handled things all by itself (black-boxing). The way it did this was by changing the program of action of smartphone users using styluses and buttons on their devices into using a finger to manipulate the items on the screen. Translation, composition, reversible black-boxing, and delegation each form an aspect of technical mediation that could not exist without the others. (Here I replace Peter-Paul Verbeek’s explanation of Bruno Latour’s example of a speed bump to deblackbox an iPhone, see Verbeek, 131).

Latour gives us a new tool to analyse this situation. Its called Actor Network Theory. Here  we understand the user and his phone as two separate agents. The agents can also influence each other (See, Latour’s Gun example in pp176-180).  When the iPhone comes into the mix, we encounter translation as the first meaning of mediation. The interference of a new device in our midst creates a new link that to some degree modifies the two agents (Latour, 179).

The second meaning of mediation is composition. The original goal was, let’s say to use the smartphone to make a list of clients she wants to call. But the two agents combined can generate a third goal (such as looking up the internet to find a ready-made list).

The third meaning of mediation is reversible black-boxing. Part of the reason the iPhone is good is because we do not need to worry about the technical aspects of it. We do not need to understand the constraints and affordances in detail to operate it. Once we learn how to use it the device becomes both opaque and invisible at the same time (a paradoxical reflex in designing complex structures as Irvine puts it; Irvine, 6). But when it breaks down we realize how many people were involved in assembling it. How far away do pieces come from?

The fourth meaning of mediation is delegation. The past decisions of Steve Jobs exert influence on the touchscreen of my present iPhone SE. He wanted to achieve the final goal of getting users to use fingers for the tasks on smartphones. He achieved it by delegating the task to the creation of a device that requires its users to use nothing but their fingers. Latour says “I rely on many delegated actions that themselves make me do things on behalf of others who are no longer here” (Latour, 189). 

Technologies are constantly in mediation with society and culture and the distinction is quite a remnant of the subject-object distinction. Within a network analysis, the system is composed of actors, actants, and goals, with a fluid transition between culture and technologies, allowing an iPhone and it user to be part of a network of many goals, interactions and programs of actions.

 

 

References

Bruno Latour, “On Technical Mediation,” as re-edited with title, “A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans — Following Daedalus’s Labyrinth,” in Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 174-217.

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method” [Conceptual and theoretical overview.]

Verbeek, Peter-Paul. “Artifacts and attachment: A post-script philosophy of mediation.” Inside the politics of technology, 2005, pp.125-146.

Destroying the Wall that Separates Technology

After reading through this week’s readings, I also want to quote on Ani Di Franco from Professor Irvine’s article: “A tool can be a weapon, if you hold it right.” Technology has taken the pulpit of today’s society and as it continues to bring about a revolution of the way humans interact with each other, sceptics and believers alike persevere to assess its overall impact. Let’s take a look at colleges nowadays, especially connectivity in college relationships – among technology’s many facets. There is a deep relevance of technology in establishing relationships but some may argue: is it enough to justify the morphed social culture that encourages virtual connectivity as compared to the physicality of actually “being there”? With COVID-19 still being a global pandemic, virtual connectivity seems like the only way and it also may pose a new question: is virtual connectivity the new norm for our future life?

Whether you say yes or no to this question, we cannot deny the fact that technology is now everywhere in our life and I mean everywhere; no one can say technology is in its isolated, separate form or domain because the result of the emerging technologies is not social isolation but social integration. Look at schools now – everyone is using Zoom as an online teaching platform, a mediation to connect with students, teachers and faculty from all over the world. It is not just about connecting, rather, it is about socializing too. And it is not just socializing, rather, it is techno-socializing. Like what Debray suggests, we need to overturn “the wall”. Today, it is odd for one not to have a Facebook or Instagram account. It’s almost a social imperative to have a profile set-up; from class groupings to collegiate or business events, this platform has become the go-to place to stay informed. But most notably, it dares mimic presence with constant texts and calls – it has become an avenue to “socialize”. It connects people from different walks of life, from different geographical locations. It makes it possible to find a childhood friend whom you haven’t seen in years. Some may even note the impact of this new age unit to their sexual lives – how it has become a tool for casual hook-ups. These social media apps have already merged themselves seamlessly into our everyday life and have become part of our modern human culture.

A few years ago, I read through some pieces from Robert Romanyshyn’s book: Technology as symptom and dream. And he argues that technology is not a bunch of linear events that happened or occurred over time in our history, rather, it is “the enactment of human imagination in the world” (pg. 10). Romanyshyn regards the study of technology as a psychological reality, as creation and most importantly, as the making of a cultural dream (pg. 10). There are millions, gazillions of life living on this planet yet we humans are the only species that are blessed with the gift of language. It is such a powerful and amazing system of communication that we are able of sharing the information with precision. This also distinguishes us from other species because we can learn the information and pass on from generation to generation – a history. Romanyshyn says that dreams speak the language of images and dreams are patterns and webs of interconnections with aesthetic values (pg.14). Technologies as dreams are about creations. We create with human achievement, with history and with discovery and it is those stimuli, hopes, dreams, fears, images and inspirations that shaped our cultural world.

 

References:

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?”, from Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Romanyshyn, R. D. (2006, originally published in 1989). Technology as symptom and dream.

Martin Irvine, “Understanding Media, Mediation, and Sociotechnical Systems: Developing a De-Blackboxing Method” [Conceptual and theoretical overview.]

Cancelling Technology vs. Society Dualism

Mary Margaret Herring

Over the past few weeks, we have discussed the importance of viewing technology and society as two parts of the same coin. If explaining the importance of unifying the notions of technology and society to someone, I would cite Cole’s cultural psychology to point out that forms of technology are cultural artifacts and could not exist in the way that they do without serving a cultural function. Further, I would argue that technology and society are co-mediated and therefore should not be viewed as distinct entities.

If we view technology as cultural artifacts, it becomes clear that technology and culture cannot be separated. Cole (1996) writes that an artifact is an “aspect of the material world that has been modified over the history of its incorporation into goal-directed human action” (p. 117). From this definition, it becomes clear that Cole believes that humans create artifacts to make it easier to accomplish certain tasks. For instance, the pulley was created to enable humans to lift heavy objects with little effort. The creation of a device like a pulley is embedded in layers of societal and cultural need. Pulleys may have originally been used to lift loads of water from wells and are now used for a variety of tasks like transporting construction materials to the tops of skyscrapers. Yet, it’s hard to imagine a form of technology as simple as a pulley lasting for thousands of years without serving a purpose. The pulley was created to enable humans to perform a task that couldn’t ordinarily be done. This brings us to the cultural part of Cole’s theory. Cole (1996) writes that culture can be understood as all of the artifacts used by a social group. I interpret this to mean that the artifacts accumulated by a group of people largely reflect that group’s motivations. In the same way that the pulley arose out of the human need to automate or simplify tasks, technology – as an artifact – arises out of human need. For this reason, culture is deeply embedded in technology and technology is deeply embedded in our culture.

Additionally, technology acts as a mediating force through which societal institutions can be transmitted. Debray (1999) illustrates this well when he uses the example of a nation. He argues that we can see the mediating factors of a nation when we examine the networks underlying this idea like roads and postal codes. It is important to realize that these concepts are not distinct because they are co-mediated and operate as a system. The nation is somewhat dependent on the networks of roads and postal codes and the roads and postal codes would be pointless without the unifying idea of a nation. When we extend this example to technology, we see that the idea of technology could not function without many complex networks, like internet connectivity, underlying it. Like the nation and road system, technology cannot be distinct from culture because our culture relies on technological systems and our cultural values are deeply embedded in technology.

For these reasons, it seems plausible to dismiss the idea that technology is distinct from society. As Irvine (n.d.) writes, it seems absurd to talk about the effects that technology can have on society as if they are distinct, causally related entities. Rather, it makes more sense to view technology and society as members of a system that are connected.


References

Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Debray, R. (August 1999). What is mediology? (Martin Irvine, Trans.). Le Monde Diplomatique.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). Understanding media, mediation, and sociotechnical artefacts: Methods for de-blackboxing. Unpublished Manuscript.

Canceling the Thought of “Technology VS. Society/Culture” Dualism

Canceling the Thought of “Technology VS. Society/Culture” Dualism

Yingxin Lyu

Artifacts have both technology or society/culture natures, but people should not treat these natures as two independent aspects; since modern technology artifacts can be seen as complex systems, people should also view them as sociotechnical ones. This writing will explain the point from two aspects: historical (or cultural) one and societal one.

First, modern “technological artifacts” are developed from ancient times and achieved cumulated advantages from the past, these cultural natures cannot be ignored. “Humans modified material objects”1, or artificial tool, were created in ancient times. These objects and tools were changed and evolved with the development of human society and culture. For example, houses evolved from caves, glasses bowls evolved from pottery ones, and smart watches evolved from bell houses. These artifacts evolved in such ways because people discovered finer materials and better techniques, invented more useful auxiliary machines, and created more specific and higher levels of needs. All these discoveries, inventions and needs are part of human history, culture and society. Thus the evolution and change of those objects and tools, or artifacts, to some extent, is the result of the development of human culture and society. Embracing the characteristic, a smart watch is not only a technology artifact, but an artifact which technological and cultural natures are intertwined with each other because the technology which lead people finally created it was developed with the progress of history and culture.

In addition, in modern society, these artifacts are called sociotechnical artifacts because they do not work independently with their users, but also the whole society. In Vermaas’s2 example, the world civil aviation system, with many components, is a sociotechnical system. The system not only embraces many modern technologies like airplane, X-ray, elevator and so on, but also many human involved parts like service staff as operators, customers as users, and rules and laws enacted by people, or society. Civil aviation is a big system which owns patent sociotechnical nature. If trying to apply this idea into a single “technological artifacts”, it will be surprising to find out that there is also a sociotechnial system in it. For example, the smart watch is not just a watch but has a lot of apps which are connected with a smartphone. For the user, he or she may only realize the interaction among the watch, smartphone and himself/herself. However, both the smart phone and watch are the tools for the user to socialize with others, thus they are endowed with social characteristics. Moreover, in the invisible processes of creating, producing, and legitimizing them, many people and societal things are involved. To be specific, there are companies which designed and created the product, factories which produced the product in large quantities, and rules and laws that are necessary for these products to enter the market legally and for those apps to operate legally. As a result, although it may only be a technological artifact for a user, actually, it is a sociotechnical one because it hides such a complex system.

References:

  1. Michael Cole, On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
  2. Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.

Discussing Mediation: IOS14

Victoria Gomes-Boronat

This past week, Apple released its latest software update, IOS 14. With the update, came some highly anticipated changes. In order to fully de-BlackBox this new update, we must analyze the socio-technical system in which it resides. According to Professor Irvine, a sociotechnical system “is a system of interconnected agency and co-dependency.” This definition erases the culture/technology dichotomy and, “redescribes media technologies as necessary and
co-dependent mediations which societies use to mediate and transmit cultural
institutions as well as the dominant artefacts of culture.” The iPhone mediates various functions, including the way we interact with photography, text, organization, speech, and human interaction/relationship building.

The iPhone remediates text through imessages, comments, ebooks, emails, posts, etc.  Speech has also been remediated through calls at the tap of a screen, and voice messages. Gone are the days where users would have to physically dial buttons or turn the dial of a rotary phone to talk to another person. Now, users can speed dial with a few taps of their screen. The actions of leaving a voice message have also been completely altered with the introduction of voice messages. Users no longer have to call a number and leave a message. They are able to go into iMessage or applications such as WhatsApp, record, and then send voice messages instantly.

Video conferencing apps on iPhones such as Zoom and Discord have completely changed the nature of socialization tasks, such as hanging out with friends. For example, the Corona Virus pandemic has ushered in a demand for safe ways to interact with others while staying socially/physically distant, and the goals of video conferencing have been translated from professional meetings to casual hangouts with friends. For example, My anime group and I used to spend every Sunday hanging out and watching our favorite shows together in the same room, however, the pandemic caused interference in the realization of our goal. Latour refers to the first level of mediation as “goal translation,” (1999). Goals, such as connecting with friends for an anime night, can be achieved through the touchscreen and applications of an iPhone, but the goal in question met interference by the pandemic and resulted in alternative actions such as using an application and a touchscreen. The touch screen adds a level of convenience to the task, which can also change the task. Being able to meet up just by the opening of an application in the comfort of one’s home or any other desired location, can increase the frequency of the meetings seeing as there aren’t as many impediments when compared to doing in-person hangouts, i.e. car breaking down, being out of town, etc. It also can change the group dynamic and communication, seeing as eye contact and body language aren’t as noticeable in an online setting.

Now with regards to the new IOS14 update. The iPhone’s home screen has always had a very minimalist design that didn’t afford users a lot of customization. The organization was limited to same-size square applications/widgets and the organization functionality of “folders”. However, with the new IOS14 update, the home screen has completely changed and remediated how users can organize and interact with their home screens. Below are some of the changes:

iOS 14 – Features- Apple. https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-14/features/

Users have been taking to social media (shown below)  to share the ways in which they have interacted with the new update in order to completely customize their home screens and therefore, their experience with the technology. As someone who has tested it out and altered my own home screen, I have to say that the update and the changes I was afforded by it completely remediated the home screen experience for me. However, as my android user friends like to (repeatedly) point out, this kind of personalized experience isn’t very new for them 😅

Video credit: @Keanejin

Video credit: @Kaylamarie126

References

Latour, Bruno. 1999. Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Irvine, Martin. n.d. “Working with Mediology and Actor Network Theory: How to De-Blackbox an iPhone.”

iOS 14 – Features. (n.d.). Apple. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-14/features/