christa.rhet Moscow

(+) “Tools with embedded biases.”

(+) “Our widespread inability to recognize or even acknowledge the biases of the technologies we use renders us incapable of gaining any real agency through them.”

Media theorist, Author of Life Inc and Program or Be Programmed

Technologies Have Biases

People like to think of technologies and media as neutral and that only their use or content determines their impact. Guns don’t kill people, after all, people kill people. But guns are much more biased toward killing people than, say, pillows — even though many a pillow has been utilized to smother an aging relative or adulterous spouse.

Our widespread inability to recognize or even acknowledge the biases of the technologies we use renders us incapable of gaining any real agency through them. We accept our iPads, Facebook accounts and automobiles at face value — as pre-existing conditions — rather than tools with embedded biases.

Marshall McLuhan exhorted us to recognize that our media have impacts on us beyond whatever content is being transmitted through them. And while his message was itself garbled by the media through which he expressed it (the medium is the what?) it is true enough to be generalized to all technology. We are free to use any car we like to get to work — gasoline, diesel, electric, or hydrogen — and this sense of choice blinds us to the fundamental bias of the automobile towards distance, commuting, suburbs, and energy consumption.

Likewise, soft technologies from central currency to psychotherapy are biased in their construction as much as their implementation. No matter how we spend US dollars, we are nonetheless fortifying banking and the centralization of capital. Put a psychotherapist on his own couch and a patient in the chair, and the therapist will begin to exhibit treatable pathologies. It’s set up that way, just as Facebook is set up to make us think of ourselves in terms of our “likes” and an iPad is set up to make us start paying for media and stop producing it ourselves.

If the concept that technologies have biases were to become common knowledge, we would put ourselves in a position to implement them consciously and purposefully. If we don’t bring this concept into general awareness, our technologies and their effects will continue to threaten and confound us.


// "we do not see…reality…as ‘it’ is, but as our languages are"//

While reflecting on Thursday’s discussion about rhetoric and epistemology, I came across this and thought I’d share:

"The potential integration of text, images, and sounds in the same system, interacting from multiple points, in chosen time (real or delayed) along a global network, in conditions of open and affordable access, does fundamentally change the character of communication. And communication decisively shapes culture, because, as Postman writes, ‘we do not see…reality…as “it” is, but as our languages are’…Because culture is mediated and enacted through communication, cultures themselves—that is, our historically produced systems of beliefs and codes—become fundamentally transformed, and will be more so over time, by the new technological system."

[ Castells :: The Rise of the Network Society (pp. 356-357) ]

// practice accounts//

Relevant to our discussion yesterday about researching the people and practices surrounding technological use, and not the technologies, themselves:

Observation forces us to focus on the actions that we are trying to support through design, rather than the things we will ultimately produce. Bill Moggridge, cofounder of IDEO, talks about designing “verbs not nouns” to characterize this focus on behavior rather than objects. This approach to design roots it in human activity—and demands a high degree of sensitivity about what people are actually trying to do and what they enjoy.

[ Jane Fulton Suri + IDEO :: Thoughtless Acts? (pp 168-169) ]

:: Technology & the Future of Writing Module ::

(i) Apple’s iPad promotional video provides occasion to discuss the two technological myths proposed by Haas (1996) in her volume about the materiality of literacy, Writing Technologies.

Specifically, how might the ways in which this new technology is promoted subscribe to either (or both) the

  • technology is transparent myth?
  • technology is all-powerful myth?

(ii) Moreover, the iPad’s “haptic” qualities also provide occasion to discuss the ways in which the human body is central to literate activities traditionally characterized as cognitive:

In both Plato’s philosophy and in his politics, the body, materiality, and technology are all suspect. The body, concerned with material or physical unrealities, is inferior to the mind, which deals with true essences. The body and its material nature are not only inferior to the mind, they may also be considered dangerous or evil. [Haas, p. 40-41]

In what ways, therefore, does Apple’s latest technological contribution explicitly challenge Platonic divisions of the mind/body? In what ways might the iPad, at least in as much as we’re able to understand it vis-a-vis this promotional video, perhaps insidiously reinforce the bifurcation of body and mind?

unfinished thoughts.