Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Technology as Progress
I did this class activity with my students the other day. We were talking about our own understandings of technology in our society, and I made them look at this photo of an Amish girl and read some of the comments people left on Flickr about it:
"It's like stepping back in time!"
"I can imagine the youngsters get bored though"
"We passed one teen-aged girl who was out mowing the weeds next to the road with a manual rotary push mower. She was bare foot and didn't look like she was enjoying the labor"
"Straight from the 19th century!"
I then asked them to think about the values and beliefs that we hold about technology and its role in society, and how those values inform the ways in which evaluate a society as being 'advanced', 'modern' and 'progressive'. As we started talking about it, I came to think about the many ways in which we create difference.
We are trained to see technology as convenience, as progress and as advancement. We do not question why that is the case, why we see things in this light. It seems to hard to argue that a society that is not technology-prone will survive - but what are our Darwinist assumptions at work here? Why do we always start from the assumption that life is survival, struggle - is it something we observe in nature?
Or is it something that our Western worldview prompts us to observe? We tend to dismiss cultures centered on a harmonious communion with nature. In The Western culture, we see struggle, we strive to control nature. Conflict is central to our view of the world. But to what extent this is just a way of selecting our focus on the world?
Photo credits: Sleestak66