Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Technology Mediating Relationships

In a May 2020 essay, @NaomiAKlein explains how Silicon Valley is exploiting the COVID19 crisis as an opportunity to reframe a long-standing vison of an app-driven, gig-fueled future. Until recently, Klein notes, this vision was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. Today we are being told that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. Klein fears that this dubious promise will help to sweep away a raft of legitimate concerns about this technological vision.

In a subsequent interview with Katherine Viner, Klein emphasizes the importance of touch. In order to sell a touchless technology, touch has been diagnosed as the problem.

In his 1984 book, Albert Borgmann introduced the notion of the device paradigm. This means viewing technology exclusively as a device (or set of devices) that deliver a series of commodities, and evaluating the technical features and powers of such devices, without having any other perspective. A device is an artefact or instrument or tool or gadget or mechanism, which may be physical or conceptual. (Including hardware and software.)

According to Borgmann, it is a general trend of technological development that mechanisms (devices) are increasingly hidden behind service interfaces. Technology is thus regarded as a means to an end, an instrument or contrivance, in German: Einrichtung. Technological progress increases the availability of a commodity or service, and at the same time pushes the actual device or mechanism into the background. Thus technology is either seen as a cluster of devices, or it isn't seen at all.

However, Klein suggests that COVID19 might possibly have the opposite effect.

The virus has forced us to think about interdependencies and relationships. The first thing you are thinking about is: everything I touch, what has somebody else touched? The food I am eating, the package that was just delivered, the food on the shelves. These are connections that capitalism teaches us not to think about.

While Klein attributes this teaching to capitalism, where Borgmann and other followers of Heidegger would say technology, she appears to echo Borgmann's idea that we have a moral obligation not to settle mindlessly into the convenience that devices may offer us (via Stanford Encyclopedia). This leads to what Borgmann calls Focal Practices.

Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A philosophical inquiry (University of Chicago Press, 1984)

Naomi Klein, Screen New Deal (The Intercept, 8 May 2020). Reprinted as How big tech plans to profit from the pandemic (The Guardian, 13 May 2020)

Katherine Viner, Interview with Naomi Klein (The Guardian, 13 July 2020)

Peter-Paul Verbeek, Devices of Engagement: On Borgmann's Philosophy of Information and Technology (Techné, SPT v6n1, Fall 2002)

David Wood, Albert Borgmann on Taming Technology: An Interview (The Christian Century, 23 August 2003) pp. 22-25

Wikipedia: Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Phenomenological Approaches to Ethics and Information Technology - Technological Attitude

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