The Power and Politics of Technologies – Isabella Smythe

‘machines, once made, make men’ (Emmerson,-)

Technologies and objects which may unwillingly have the power to change our behaviour and translate values onto societies have not just noticeable effects in the way we navigate around our everyday lives but can influence our subconscious associations without us even knowing.

These technologies may not be just objects, but include systems and networks. It is these technologies which most people accept their context to have shaped these technologies, but many fail to question how these technologies have actually shaped the context from which they arose, just as Willams agues, ‘social setting shapes technologies as much as vice versa’ (Williams, 1996).

A cultural example of the circular influence of objects and society is the extremely low Robert Moses overpasses in Long Island. According to Robert A. Caro, these 1920-1970 overpasses were deliberately built this low so buses, which ‘poor people and blacks’ (Winner, 1986) caught, could not access the public parks also designed by Moses. Whereas, the ‘Automobile-owning whites of “upper” and “comfortable middle” classes’ (Moses, -), were able to easily drive under the overpasses. This demonstrates a remarkable social bias, which went and still does go almost unnoticed, as being a part of the surrounding architecture – us as humans barely give it second thought while it subconsciously changes our everyday behaviours. Winner summaries this perfectly, as he states about Moses ‘Many of his monumental structures of concrete and steel embody a systematic social inequality, a way of engineering relationships among people that, after a time, became just another part of the landscape.’ (Winner, 1986).

Moses Overpass

An example of one of the many overpasses designed by Moses

Technology now has the power to alter social behaviours on an even more personal level with the introduction of objects such as smart phones, allowing us to stay constantly updated with social networks. Although these innovations are shaped by emerging technologies within our modern context, they in turn shape our subconscious behaviour and social interactions as we further distance ourselves from the real world.

Women on phones

This Ted Talk by Sherry Turkle (2012) ‘Connected, but alone’, available from http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together?language=en#t-321771
explores further how smartphone devices are negatively altering our social behaviour without us even noticing, ‘these devices… don’t change what we do, they change who we are’ (Turkle, 2012).

According to L. Winner (1986) ‘The theory of technological politics draws attention to the ways human ends are powerfully transformed as they are adapted to technical means’. Technological determinism is evident in scenarios learnt from the past and in today’s society. By using these examples, we can only speculate about how it will shape us as humans in the future a technologies continue to evolve and change.

1. Jean -Pierre Dupuy, The Mechanization of the Mind , Princeton University Press, 2000.
2. Turkle, S. 2012. Connected but alone. Ted Talk. Available online: http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together?language=en#t-321771
3. Williams, R. 1996. The social shaping of technology. Research Policy , 25, p. 875.
4. Winner, L. 1986. The whale and the reactor: a search for limits in an age of high technology. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 19-39.
5. -, Robert Moses Causeway. NYC Roads. Available online: http://www.nycroads.com/roads/robert-moses/
6. -, Your phone and I are fighting a duel. Darkgoddess. Available online: http://darkgoddess.org/wonderland/2014/05/18/your-phone-i-are-fighting-a-duel/

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