Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ten Paradoxes of Technology with Andrew Feenberg – School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada.

Boring but Intellectually Superior

I forced myself to watch this – well, listen really – because it was recommended by the Stanford Faculty.  While Andrew Feenberg is a boring speaker, I think he has a highly intellectual mind.  But he is not an entertaining academic like Alex Couros, hence I see a number of unpleasant responses to his talk.   Academics need to learn to be entertaining as well as learned  if they want people to listen to them and accept their ideas, especially now that they speak on the Internet.  Nonetheless I found his talk had very interesting elements in the context of the development of technology and the utopian and dystopian effects that will continue to persist in the future.

An Event from my Youth

I am reminded of my youth.  I lived in a very isolated part of Africa.  It was 1951.  My dad was a Government Medical Officer responsible for an area the size of Wales but we lived in a very small and isolated community.  I was 6 going on 7 years old and had no friends anywhere near of my age.  I did correspondence school with my mother in the mornings.  In the afternoons I was free to play.  I ‘played’ with Gandy, the borehole pump attendant.  Gandy was a relatively uneducated adult African.  Nonetheless he taught me a lot of things about the African bush.  Together we explored the flora and fauna in the surrounding bush.  I learned about lizards, beetles, grasshoppers and other equatorial bugs.  Even snakes as one day we came across a cobra in a trench that had been dug for sewer pipes and we both ran for our lives.  

Gandy lived in small house not far from ours. It had been built at the same time as our home and was standard brick under an asbestos roof with modern window frames and paned glass. One cold winter’s day Gandy did not appear for work and my dad sent me to find him. I went to his house and knocked on the door. No answer. I called his name. Nothing. I pressed the door handle and the door opened. There were the remains of a wood fire on the floor and his bedroom was filled with smoke. I saw Gandy in his bed apparently asleep. I called his name. He did not stir. I shook his shoulders. He did not wake. Then I realised his body was cold to the touch. In a moment I realised he was dead and I ran screaming back to my dad. Gandy had been used to living in a traditional pole and dagga hut with a thatched roof where the smoke from a fire for warmth drifted out through the thatch. He did not know about carbon monoxide poisoning from a fire in a room that was sealed to the outside. In short he did not know about the technology and its good and bad effects and it led to an early death.

An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore in his presentation  “An Inconvenient Truth” referred to the fact that technology can be dangerous in the hands of those who do not know how to use it.

Technology as a Killer and a Paradox of Means

This doesn't apply only to Gandy and his brick under asbestos roof.  It applies to all technology.  Today the mobile phone is ubiquitous but it is frequently misused.  Drivers in Zimbabwe - and probably elsewhere - insist on using this device while driving a motor vehicle.   I have even seen drivers texting while driving.  In doing so they are not only risking their own lives but the lives of other road users.  In these circumstances the mobile phone is a potential killer.  The motor vehicle itself is a potential killer.  It kills more people world wide than, for example, cigarettes.  Yet we are warned that smoking cigarettes can kill.  Perhaps there should be a sign on all motor vehicles "Entering this Vehicle Can Seriously Damage Your Health".  But we don't do that - well, not yet anyway.  Why?   Because it is not yet politically correct to do so.  Everyone either owns or wants to own a motor vehicle - sometimes to get from A to B, but more frequently to display their own version of the 'Paradox of Means' 

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