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.

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