25 January 2008

What does our use of technology say about us?

My course in Society and Technology is talking about technological determinism this week and the conversation, as always, is varied and fascinating. It also seemed particularly appropriate this morning, when I read this article in the New York Times about a "game show" that essentially applies technology in two ways to dehumanize and subjugate what the article calls "seemingly nice people". By using polygraphs and the mass medium of television, people are broken down to tell the "truth" about the deepest, darket parts of their inner most lives.

The key question my students are facing this week is whether technology or the people propels the directon of our society. Here it is in a real sense: Is it the technology that's a problem or the people on the show? Or the people who made the show? Obviously, people who volunteer for shows like this know what they are getting into. But do they really? Could you really know through description what this show would entail? As the article points out, one woman is trying to get money to get her mother into a house. She has a good motive for subjecting herself to this kind of questioning. And yet, the couple described is ruined and for what?

However, as I think more about the article, it is not the contestents but the producers of the show that really are utilizing technology in a way that might harm society. I cannot help but think about the line "With great power comes great responsibility". I think there is a power in technology, in this case the television, for which we take responsibility. The power remains in the hands of the user, here seen in the producers but also in the hands of those with the remote control. The ever enlightening Jeff Rutenbeck said the other day that technology amplifies. That's an interesting characterization and I think this example proves his point. What does our use of technology say about us?

Some heavy questions perhaps for a blog post but certainly ones that I am carrying around with me. I look forward to seeing what my students have to say about it.

18 January 2008

Teaching Senior Seminar on Society and Technology

How does it go from being the 2nd to the 18th so quickly? Wow: between students coming back to campus and going to Midwinter, the Sheck is moving at a pretty quick pace. A post, or two, about Midwinter is forthcoming but at this very moment, my mind is on my course.

Last semester, I took a first crack at teaching HIS 415: Seminar in Contemporary World Issues. Each professor chooses their own theme for the course. Some focus on globalization, some on genocide, some on Iraq. The Sheck focused on Society & Technology. Students critically examine the impact of technology on a variety of societal aspects including politics, democracy, science and medicine, community, and culture. To reframe our understanding of that impact, we then study and discuss the impact of the digital divide in the United States and in Africa.

The class went very well with students approaching the readings and issues in a creative, thoughtful, and engaging way. I learned a great deal from all of my students and found many of the generalizations often heard about students and technology smashed to bits.

Teaching a senior seminar on Society and Technology has been an incredibly rewarding and interesting but also challenging. Teaching it again this semester is even more exciting than the first iteration. As a new teacher, designing, developing, and running a brand new course is hard work. I rewrote the course during the semester, which I vow not to do again(I'm sure many of you more experienced teachers are shaking your heads at that one!). With classes just picking up steam, I am feeling more knowledgeable and prepared than last semester.

Already though I am thinking ahead. There are so many books I find interesting and valuable as I continue to develop the course and my interest in this area. Here are just a few that I am immersed in currently:
-Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
-Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte
-The Hypercomplex Society by Lars Quvartrop

Classics, perhaps, but new to me.

If you have any suggestions for further readings for the course, please throw them into the comments section!

02 January 2008

The Year Ahead in Reading

Much like Jessamyn, 2007 was not a great reading year for the Sheck. While I did get a few truly great books in, as a voracious reader, I felt like I as in the doldrums. Some books did grab me: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (as if that needed to be said), What is the What by Dave Eggers, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. But mostly, I spent time reading for others: the Community Book Program, my course on Society and Technology, book clubs.

I am hoping that I will get to a few of the books on my wishlist sooner rather than later. Here are some of the titles that are not related to work that I am itching to get to:
-When Elephants Weep: the Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
-Musicophilia : tales of music and the brain by Oliver Saks
-Giving : how each of us can change the world by Bill Clinton
-Woman : an intimate geography by Natalie Angier
-Travels with Herodotus
-How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard
-The Memory Keeper's Daugther by Kim Edwards
-The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

As I write these down, I am proud of myself for how much nonfiction is on the list. Three New Year's Resolutions ago, I promised that for every piece of fiction I read, I would read a piece of non-fiction. I have always been a voracious reader, particularly of fiction so moving into non-fiction was challenging. Perhaps no longer though, as my list attests.

Best of luck to all of you in finding books in 2008 that take your fancy.