Here we are, putting “technological”, e, or digital in front of a word again. The term was first coined by Landon Winner in an essay Technology as Forms of Life, where he advocates the need for a Philosophy of Technology.
Winner presents that…
“the puzzle of our time is that we so willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence”.
The major problems he presents with this sleepwalking are:
- We don’t think through the affects technology has on us.
- Vast changes in the structure of our common world due to technology are undertaken with little attention to what they mean.
- We only pay attention to whether or not the new technology provides a convenient or efficient service or turns a profit.
- Technology’s broader significance only show up later as surprising “side effects” or “secondary” consequences.
Winner points out that technology affords new worlds being built, new patterns of human activity, and new human institutions created–and that should be seen as being the primary accomplishment, not secondary side effect.
Reading this (and ever-pondering the term ‘technology”) made me think of our existence in early times. When we are born into a certain technology, we might not see it as a society-transforming miracle, and more of a commons right. If we think of how we might have felt if we were alive at the time the wheel was invented–maybe we even watched it happen–how life altering that must have been. There must have been so much excitement knowing this new tool was going to help us get food and help us build. Whatever task was at hand that very moment must have been so much easier. The next generation then is born into this wheel-using world, they see it and learn how it works from infancy. They are riding around on carts with wheels by animals and that’s just the way it is. No one knows what it was like before wheels. In hindsight we can identify how that wheel changed our culture and society, but as we us it, its just a neutral tool. We think of ourselves as separate from the tool, instead of reveling in the fact that we are living within a world that would be impossible without it. Fast forward and those wheels are used to make a car, and a whole new innovation miracle occurs, only to be taken for granted later.
This concept relates to the concept of digital citizenship as we think about of own engagement (and disengagement) in our culture and the innovation that occurs within. How is it we come to take for granted the awe-inspiring world around us? What is hidden in plain site around us all the time? How could our sleepwalking affect others? What is our responsibility to wake up? What is our responsibility to pinch our neighbors and wake them up too?
How does one sleepwalk in online spaces? I think of myself scrolling Facebook on my cellphone for 5 (whole!) minutes while I’m waiting in line just to pass the time. My literal muscle memory reaches into my purse and grabs my phone when my brain triggers boredom. I’m not retaining anything I read. I’m not engaging. I’m sleepwalking. I’m so used to using my cell phone for this I can’t even remember what I did while waiting before.
1. This super-touching and inspirational video relates to this very concept in our everyday lives–and in our analog citizenship. It is a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace put to great video. In it, Wallace urges the true advantage of education is an awareness that we have freedom to “consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t”- An awareness that it is our decision “how to think”.
The alternative is = unconciousness (or sleepwalking)
2. Original Essay (pdf) of Technology as Forms of Life (and really hard to read scan) first referencing Technological Somnambulism.
3. Book review article by Scott London of The Whale and the Reactor, A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology, By Langdon Winner (1986), which is the larger collection of ten essays from which Technology as Forms of Life is derived.
4. This funny clip from Louis CK on cellphones & flying points out how ridiculous we sound when we take technology for granted (Graphic Language Warning)
5. Contaminated Tap Water and Technology We Take for Granted from “Sociology in Focus”. Nathan Palmer asks you challenging questions about what would happen if we took away the technologies you depend upon for survival.
6. This is how the Urban Dictionary defines somnambulist.
7. Working Dead meme I grabbed from here