Tag Archives: technological determinism

Week one Commentary on technological determinism and various other determinisms and considerations of ownership and control @edcmooc

Week one Commentary on technological determinism and various other determinisms and   considerations of ownership and control.

We were asked to home in on questions of ownership and control with regards to how the internet technology/ technology  is controlling/ being controlled.

It seems that to answer that question, that a non reductionalist methodology  ( a multi-determinations  methodology) should be used to analyse such technologies, as Dahlberg argues in Technological Determinism and Dahlberg, L (2004). Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology.

He explains “a multi-determinations or mutual constitution analysis recognizes that each so-called determining factor is itself embedded within and constituted by a system of inter-linked constitutive processes”

And gives an example –

“So, for example, research into Internet-democracy practices would want to explore the democratic possibilities afforded by the technical aspects of the medium, user motivations and intentions, and the social structuring of online communications and identities”

I am very much in agreement and think that habits of mind among users/ larger society are impacted by and can be in fact to a great degree be constructed by media texts ( and indeed other artefacts that create understandings of what is allowed/ what is not allowed in systems)   I believe it is true that  systems –  their social, cultural normalities act on us directly on a neurological level – impacting how we make meanings. The affordances of their technologies impact our freedoms negatively or positively.

And so the medium and not only the content impact users understandings, their concepts of agency – the democratic possibilities that are afforded or not afforded to us.

As a starting point to systems that we perceive around us, I’d like to start with Uses determination-

Uses determination: technology is shaped and takes meaning from how individuals and groups choose to use it.  This is certainly the case in the way social media is being used by users all over the globe – as soon as a new need is spotted by developers, vupti a new application emerges to meet that need. Communiteis of developers are developing many apps in an open source collaborative spirit to meets these needs that are emerging and then quickly becoming addressed by many different apps springing up randomly in these communities.

I’d like to see large centralized systems linked to governmental policies and such have the same spirit –responsiveness to real user needs. Here is a real life scenario that I know of. Here in Denmark if certain bills are not paid such as tv license or parking tickets then the large centralised tax machinery kicks into works by deducting the owed amount from one’s wages. I know of a case where accumulated parking tickets caused that to happen to someone and then when the bills and their respective fees for not paying on time were deducted, the system kept on deducting the same amount from that person’s wages until the person realised, phoned the tax people up – but,  oh no still nothing could be done, the machinery was still to deduct a large chunk from the next wages although it had no right to do so.  A manual override was impossible!!!  What’s more no one was to blame, everyone  “doing their best”, “trying to figure it out,”

The system had been programmed to per default to keep on and of course it would be stopped,,but only after the tax personnel had figured out how to stop it.

Really an example of control being put into the hands of systems. Ownership was not to be found..noone specific was accountable.

A case of lack of transparency and low accountability by governmental systems is something to be stopped in its tracks, yet is already here. This is social (determined by political and economic structures of society )and technological determinism (‘produces new realities’, new ways of communicating, learning and living, and its effects can be unpredictable – a new reality certainly produced here in terms of wages being controlled and taxed unjustly by an almost autonomous technological system ) gone wild.

And here I found a very apt citation in Dahlberg’s text:

“Postman links the notion of technological autonomy closely with the notion that ‘a method for doing something becomes the reason for doing it’


‘The Frankenstein Syndrome: One creates a machine for a particular and limited purpose. But once the machine is built, we discover, always to our surprise – that it has ideas of its own; that it is quite capable not only of changing our habits but… of changing our habits of mind’

Certainly, how we react to systems, is in part channeled by systems and their minions- “oh no one can take responsibility, after all we are just trying our best, trying to figure it out, will have to employ a different system to look at a different database, you will receive notification”

And although western liberalism does support  autonomous individuals as capable of directing and governing their own behavior, we can perhaps conclude that  western systems do not always do that.  Both of the educational nature and of the governmental nature.

And regarding systems and their nature to control

I’d agree that” their impacts are determined by the manner in which human agency exploits them in a specific setting” and indeed on the training of the personnel given the responsibility of managing them.

I’d like to take a look at 4 future scenarios outlined by the European Commission that paint possible digtial futures for us all in Europe.   The report “ Envisioning Digital Europe 2030” analyses current and future challenges in ICT for governance and policy modeling. It presents scenarios of future possible implementation models in 2030.

The possible opportunities and risks are identified for each model and a picture is painted of possible resulting implications for citizens, business and public services. ( The report is available hter: http://ftp.jrc.es/EURdoc/JRC61593.pdf)

Very quickly, this report outlines these 4 distinct scenarios of life in 2030

Scenario 1 / OPEN GOVERNANCE: characterised by high openness and transparency and high integration in policy intelligence


Scenario 2 / LEVIATHAN GOVERNANCE: characterised by low openness and transparency and high integration in policy intelligence

characterised by low openness and transparency and low integration in policy

: characterised by high openness and transparency and low integration in policy

Put briefly, these scenarios range from a governmental system that is responsive to user needs and allows for change according to those needs. That is Scenario 1 / OPEN GOVERNANCE: characterised by high openness and transparency and high integration in policy intelligence


On the bleak side far to the other extreme we have of course   a society that is run entirely by information systems – systems that restrict by predefined and pre-calculated algorithms, our choices, hailing that they optimise our performance from the cradle to the grave.  That would be Scenario 3 / PRIVATISED GOVERNANCE: characterised by low openness and transparency and low integration in policy.

And sort of mid way another  scenario is painted- one in which we have the rather horrific extreme of  living in a society where we delegate our right of initiative to an ‘enlightened oligarchy’ whose job it will be to manage public information and services on our behalf.

We would be well to already now  take an active part in decision making and demand that the data and facilities we need to interact with government and policy makers will be made available to us. Control I believe should be firmly paced in the hands of the user, to delegate their own authority – and in line with Dahlberg’s  recommendations I believe that an emphasis upon the social impact of technology must be part of any communications research.

I think in fact that it is one of the most important things to watch as its determinations can be very far reaching. It is important to keep tabs on the direct social inputs in the development of specific technological systems as well as  the role of wider power relations and social structures that are firmly reinforced by such systems.

Apropos the uses and effects of technologies. I’d say these are predetermined by the aforementioned social inputs in the designing of such systems.

I’d very much agree with this:

“Users do not simply manipulate the material world at will. Rather, there is a mutual shaping process between social contexts, technology, and users. The various choices stemming from the social settings involved in the process of innovation and deployment become embodied within technologies such that technology can be regarded as congealed social relations – a frozen assemblage of the practices, assumptions, beliefs, language, and other factors involved in its design and manufacture… . [this] suggests that the social relations which are built into the technology have consequences for subsequent usage” from (Woolgar, 1996, pp. 89-90)

Talking about the congealed social relations of the future—well we see it here in the Envisaging Digital Europe Reoprt:

“A new participative model

will emerge in which feedback loops and cocreation

are fully integrated into the policy

and decision making cycle of the EU and its

Member States. User-enabling ICT applications

and integrated mass-collaboration systems

will enhance cooperation within government

agencies and interaction with stakeholders,

making processes more user-centric and costeffective,

bringing high public value to endusers.

Public services will be performed by

decentralised agencies in close cooperation with

private actors and social movements, directly

involving citizens. This will lead to the creation

of a strong civil society that will coexist and

support the representative model, giving birth to

new types of partnerships and alliances between

citizens, private companies and government. This

will lead to networked governance systems where

stakeholders cooperate via well established policy

intelligence mechanisms and ICT applications,

based on shared principles and values.”

So it is the shared principles and values we wil lahve to watch.

We can read on:


transition to a ‘mobile society without mobiles’

will have started; here, social networking and

augmented reality applications will be part of

everyday life and will improve personal autonomy

and quality of life. Virtual offices will become the

norm and media-streaming and broadcasting

functionalities will expand the number of usages

and users of mobile services, giving rise to a more

efficient Internet of Services. Business and social

life will be structured in a way that quality of life

will increase in parallel with performance and

productivity”… learning and education will be based

on how people as inter-dependent and interconnected

social beings construct their identities… All groups in society will have web access

and will have mastered enough ICT skills to

make best use of ICT-enabled applications

for governance and policy modelling. Senior

citizens will participate actively in society and

will be able to maintain and call upon extensive

social networks. Migrants and ethnic minorities

will be well integrated in society, also thanks

to the widespread and effective adoption of

user-enabling technologies. These will connect

them to their home countries, supporting their

development and reinforcing their cultural ties

and ‘cultural proximity’ without isolating them

from their host countries in separate virtual

representations of their cultures. ICT-enabled

applications will enhance social cohesion by

improving personalised local service delivery and

will increase people’s freedom. They will create

opportunities for local economic development,

allow citizens greater participation in the

governance process, and ensure that minority

groups are represented in local institutional


So we hear the words personal autonomy, quality of life, performance and productivity and there are implications of independence, interdependence,promises of realising one’s  identity through  a social construction of identities? There are possibilities for endless inclusion and collaboration in policy making and in improving social cohesion by building stronger ties to home countries for diasporas everywhere.

Would these promises not also have a flip side- I thoink the social construction of identities sounds too much like a possibility of bringing about a socialistic, collectivism which really isn’t sovereignty of the individual. I think that and improvement in building stronger ties to home countries for diaspora should be allowed but with reservation as leading political activists could easily use it for importing extremist political agendas from non democratic countries. Likewise, the promise that all groups in society will be able to participate actively is not in itself a self fulfilling promise- not without there being a shift in education to availing citizens/ young people of technologies in such a way that they learn of their freedoms and learn to use technologies for participation in democratic processes.

This is not happening at present. There is an “educational divide” that separates the savvy from the not so savvy mew media users. This brings the hope of certain promises into the arena of education, where 21st Century learning promises are not being fully honoured by educational institutions which do not as yet fully understand the concept of learning with technologies.

To become an actor within any system one must learn how to use it not only to get by, but to be able to  percieve one’s degree of autonomy within that system – whether one can construct an identity in liking and in alignment to oneself, whether one can percieve of digital montioring and surveillance trends that perhaps one doesn’t agree with and of course one needs to be aware of mechanisms for engagement in all areas of interest.

Not to be aware of these freedoms would be folly and would perhaps leave the development of systems to an enlightened oligarchy or a surveillance society in which large corporations interests are honoured first. Would we even see it coming? That is why I see the importance of enlightening students ( through 21st Century Learning ) of their freedoms within systems and of building competencies in them to be able to both navigate and critically asses any systems they may find their identities embedded within.