Inspired by Dave White's post Does the Technology Matter?.
Mainly misused, technology is fairly neatly summed up on Wikipedia (and I don't often have the chance to type that phrase) as "the usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, and crafts, or is systems or methods of organization, or is a material product (such as clothing) of these things." but most people seem to focus entirely on the latter part of that definition. I have a simple answer to "Does the Technology Matter?". Yes. And so obviously so, that I have to assume that the Technology in question is only the material products, and not the usage and knowledge associated with them, which, after all, includes the pedagogy, which I am pretty confident very very few people in the education domain would suggest doesn't matter.
So, working on this assumption, do the material products of technology (which I believe can be considered as including software), matter? Should we allow technological evolution to drive changes in society, or is that in some way bad?
Historically, perceived need has led to enhanced technology, which has, in turn, led to changes in societal norms. We have seldom been in a situation where we can predict all of the affordances of new technology before it arrives, nor in a position to engineer social change to fit in with them. Indeed, when technology is created in order to fulfil a need, it is unlikely that we could even engender societal change before the technology is there to support it.
Quite a lot of recent technological progress may be considered as wish fulfilment rather than being based on need. This may change the underlying nature of the development, but I hold that it is still the case that in most, if not all, cases you cannot change society's rules to be in keeping with the technology until you have a firm grasp of what the technology offers. You can, of course, seek to make plain the needs of your particular social group in order to influence the development of technology. This is as close as you can get to the social leading the technological.
In this, rather poor, diagram, I have attempted to show some of the relationships which occur between individuals, society and technology. 'People' in this case are the ones an individual directly affects through their behaviour. I have left out all sorts of relationships - for instance, a Person can create or influence a particular piece of technology without anyone else being involved. But I think this diagram captures the main essence (and tomorrow I will probably want to totally re-draw it, such is the way of things).
The affordances of technology impact on the goals an individual has (as do, in fact, the norms of society and so on). The goals, environment and norms influence the way the Person behaves, which impacts on the People they interact with. Both the behaviour and the responses of the People can influence the norms, and similarly, they can influence the technology.
The thing is, norms are the 'mutually agreed' rules of society. They are often only implicitly agreed (and often not even really discussed much), and when explicit they are often represented as laws or rules. The process of changing them is typically very slow (although this has the capacity to change with social media impacting on people's ability to discuss things, form tightly knit 'positive feedback' communities and express their opinions to the world), whereas the impact of individuals and small groups of people on the technology can be very quick. It only needs a small number of people to be convinced that a change to technology is necessary for it, typically, to be changed.
The 'gain', a which applies to an individuals behaviour impacting on society's norms is low - most individuals can not bring sufficient influence to bear to change the conservative views of the majority quickly. On the other hand, the gain b which applies to an individual's ability to influence the progress of technology is quite high by comparison, and is becoming higher more rapidly as computer technology makes it easier to develop and distribute new tools.
The technology has always led societal norms, and will continue to do so for as long as the influence individuals have on technology remains greater than that they have on policy, rules and social norms. Consumerist led development, fulfilling wishes instead of needs, only serves to accelerate this behavioural feature of the system.
So, yes, the technology matters - at least until you can get people to decide that that is not the way they want it to work. And if you are in a sub-culture, such as education, where there is a tendency to say that the technology is not important, at least in comparison to the pedagogy, you need to look outside, and realise that your 'customers' are largely technology led.
I remember being taught once that a new computer program should not change the way people do their jobs. I think it was just supposed to make them more efficient. I would certainly agree that it should not force them to make changes with which they are particularly uncomfortable, but it seems naive to suggest that it should not provide them with ways of doing more, doing it differently, and doing it better.
Dave also draws out the idea of whether you are someone who develops technology which will 'disappear' into use, or which will disrupt. I am not a great fan of change (at least, not change which was instigated by anyone else!), but disruption forces you to think. Education is meant to do that - get people to think. There is certainly a place for tools which become second nature, but they should probably continue to be disruptive too.
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