Intentions or tools? A technological determinist view of the future

4 Feb

The second week of the E-Learning and Digital Futures has us looking to the future, and if the short films which form part of the week’s resources are anything to go by we have very little to look forward to!

On the positive side, we are offered a shiny, clean-edged utopian vision of one possible future by Microsoft in Productivity Future Vision, where glossy, intuitive tablet technology makes everyday tasks and communication so easy we barely notice the tech is there at all. This is made possible perhaps by Corning’s versatile glass (A Day Made of Glass), which plays a central, if sophisticatedly understated role in bringing the benefits of streamlined technology to the office, healthcare, education and family life alike. The technology is beautiful in its simplicity, its subtlety and the way blends neatly into our lives. Perhaps most notably, these two films demonstrate how the technology fits into our everyday lives, and how we can choose to use it or not: in Productivity Future Vision the girl is able to share recipes with her mother over a video link, before downloading the chosen one and then beginning to bake the cake by hand. Given the futuristic nature of the film Microsoft could have shown her 3D printing it, but this perhaps is a step too far for us and would undermine the comfortable way in which technology integrates with our lives.

Sight turns this notion on its head: there is agency in this film too, but it is exercised by one human for the domination of another, in a fairly disturbing fashion. Interestingly, my first reaction to this film was one of horror at the way the victim is made so vulnerable by the technology; but actually people are able to achieve the same end in today’s society, using different tools. The intention itself is repugnant, but the way it is enacted is shocking partly because the method is so alien.

In both Sight and Productivity Future Vision technology is in fact no more than a tool, and portrayed as such; but the actions of those using it totally skew our perceptions of the technology itself. We associate the action: homely mother-daughter conversation and cake-baking or horrendous exploitation of another human being, with the tool used to achieve it. Is this because it is easier to blame the means than the human actor? Or because these human actions, good and bad, are familiar to us; while the technology is not?

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One Response to “Intentions or tools? A technological determinist view of the future”

  1. Letty February 4, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    You don’t sound like a technological determinist. I think you hit the nail on the head byshowing that the polarity of views is precicely intent or tool.

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