On Technological Determinism
No one really doubts that the technological realm is in dialectical or feedback relationship with other economic
or social realms.
What we can differ on is intuition about the degree of dependence or determination in the different directions of relationships.
Is technology mainly dependent on and determined by economic and social forces, such that it merely re-enforces the capitalist power structures? Or can technology have unpredicted and subversive social effects?
For example :
RonaldCoase is an economist who theorized the reason for the existence of companies as aggregations of more than one
individual. He claimed it was simply a strategy to overcome the costs of aggregating the necessary resources, dynamically, on a project by project basis.
With the internet and the "real time organization", some people have started to question whether companies need to exist. Or whether individuals could now aggregate on a project by project basis.
This could lead to the irony of a capitalist sponsored information structure ultimately undermining and eliminating the "employment" relationship.
Now, as Hilan and Tanya point out, this doesn't necesarily bring a fairer society. But it does change the rules of engagement and demands a whole new set of concepts to reason with.
PhilAgre has arguments against this scenario. But it is possible. And would definitely be a case where an unpredicted social side effect of a technology proved dramatically socially transformative, and subversive of the current order.
If you want to change the world :
There are no simple solutions, all the realms are interdependent and you have to intervene somewhere in the interactive flow. Now Oli and myself, as technologists, have some understanding of the social game within the technological realm. We can see the incredible pressures that commercial requirements of the economic realm put on technologists. But also have a sense of the game as a negotiation between the urges of the technologists and the market's demands. We know we have to build enough stuff that people want to buy from us. But we also discuss other ideas to invest our time and energy in. We take inspiration from, and follow real examples of other technologists who have willed their ideas into the world, in the face of market indifference or hostility.
So, it's not surprising that the technological realm seems, to us, to be one which allows a certain amount of independent action and intervention in the world. In contrast, the realm of the political, in modern western democracies, seems an unbreakable deathlock embrace between shallow and venal politicians, and an apathetic and greedy public. How can one pin ones hope on change there? Hoping for this public to suddenly wake up and discover their social conscience and inner generosity seems like waiting for a miracle.
But of course, this is a technologist's perspective. A charismatic politician leading a popular movement, or a charity worker who finds support everywhere, may have a different sense of where to intervene in the overall system.
Is it worth arguing which is most effective? Or should each intervene in the realm they feel they have most understanding in, and hope of success? Well, bland agreement to differ would be kind of boring ;-) so just to make the pitch for technology. Technology - wheels, fire, ploughs, clocks and the printing press - has a good record of making permanent change. Very few socially transforming technologies have been succesfully rolled back. On the other hand, ideologies, religions, ethical codes, have tended to hold on to the public imagination for only a few centuries before becoming replaced or changed out of recognition.
If one really believes, as Hilan, in the absence of a human nature, and that people are blank slates; then it seems an ethical ideology is all you have, to instantiate the good society.
Confusing. So do I still believe this? I certainly like the point that you should choose the intervention that you understand and like (OnInterventions) so there's room for politics AND technological innovations. Maybe my claim that technology never gets rolled back is wrong if you bring in JaredDiamond's illustrations that China managed to roll back several technologies for political reasons.
And of course: China's political 'roll back' from engaging in the globalisation processes that started over 500 years ago has subsequently 'given in' to the inevitable tide of technology making it ever easier to travel, and therefore trade, abroad.
Depends how you interpret it. The technology came back in from outside, it didn't keep spontaneously re-igniting within China and win out against politics internally.