[iDC] Toward a Post-Post-Critical Future

Adriene Jenik ajenik at ucsd.edu
Thu Sep 28 00:37:08 EDT 2006

A post with many thoughts that intersect with my own concerns and 
activities, so thanks, Trebor.

Just a few notes to add for now:

 > I do not see Ellul or Langdon Winner as writers with pessimistic 
visions - their attitudes toward technology are both based upon 
considered analysis of the ways that technologies have developed in 
relation to economic powers throughout history - doing exactly what 
you call for here by not making social struggles secondary to 
technological developments.  Unfortunately, I think they are much too 
often placed in a "divide" as the pessimists and therefore easy to 
dismiss. But I think the power of Winner's case studies is not in any 
pessimistic bias, but rather at the very lucid depiction of how 
things happen to happen. Does knowing the history of technology make 
us pessimists? Can we be skeptical optimists instead? I am 
pessimistic about the general will to power, but feel very optimistic 
about the creativity and goodness of much of humanity.

 > regarding an working example that could be provided for Feenberg's 
proposal, some years ago I heard about the Danish Citizen Technology 
Panels. Some basic information os detailed here:


The simple but in my estimation, worthwhile effort here is to gather 
a rotating group of non-expert citizens to become informed about and 
then discuss ( in a concentrated fashion) the potential benefits and 
impacts of new technologies. These panels then issue media reports on 
their findings which are further debated on more local levels. This 
is done in advance of the consideration of policies dealing with 
these technologies (reproductive technologies, genetically modified 
crops, etc) so that citizens can then be better informed, but also be 
a part of the discussion prior to dissemination/implementation.

I don't think this would be possible in the US because of the 
powerful role that new technologies play in the economy here (and the 
way that that value seems to supercede any concept of ethics). But I 
wanted to share it with you all as one example/effort. Also - If 
there are any Danes or others familiar with how this really works 
out, I'd love to hear something about their effects.



At 12:38 PM 9/27/2006, Trebor Scholz wrote:
>How can we overcome global social problems if we see them as secondary
>in relation to technology? How can we divorce political and
>technological discourses? The technological future cannot be discussed
>in terms of de-contextualized (networked) objects because they are
>everything but autonomous players.
>It is equally unhelpful to create a dichotomy between two camps: those
>with conformist views of technology and others who see technology as a
>monster that swallows us. Marcuse as well as Foucault analyze society as
>a life-draining machinery fueled by dominated people. The question about
>technology is not whether "to take it or leave it." While the assembly
>line was the long arm of management in 1913, today machines are powered
>by networked technological systems. In 1941 the Ford Motor Company
>experienced its first general strike at the River Rouge Plant and a
>survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project predicts a movement
>of "tech refuseniks" who live completely off the network and "will
>commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change"
>in 2020. [1] We could link such pessimism back to the late 1970s when
>Langdon Winner and Jacques Ellul ask how technology has improved human
>dignity, well-being, and freedom. Marx, who is otherwise sometimes
>perceived as a technological determinist, writes in Manuscripts that
>"The more the worker expends himself in the work the more powerful
>becomes the world of objects which he creates in face of himself, the
>poorer he becomes in his inner life, and the less he belongs to
>himself." (Marx, p 122)
>In the search for the potentialities of technology it is vital to go
>beyond the pessimism -- optimism divide. Technology is one important
>dimension of human existence that matters a great deal. We should what
>offers meaning and fulfillment in this technology-rich life. At the same
>it is obvious that technology will not fix everything. How can we
>overcome social problems if we see them as secondary in relation to
>technology? Think of the fragmentation and de-humanization of labor.
>Manual labor is pushed to the global south and creative/intellectual
>work is concentrated in the "developed world." Global outsourcing and
>the unfulfilling work in call centers or the physically dangerous labor
>in offshore sweatshops are further examples. By the same token cultural
>power is centralized. In the developed world most people are "time poor"
>while in "developing countries" material poverty reigns. In the United
>States the workday gets ever longer. A mother with three children may
>work four jobs and still not be able to pay the rent. The working poor
>also belong to those 47 million Americans who cannot afford health
>insurance. People are completely controlled by credit ratings and kept
>in (the work) place by student loans. A friend calls this passive
>aggressive capitalism. How can technology encourage people to see their
>life in terms of alternatives, preferences and choices?
>Today, the intellectual horizons and qualifications behind jobs are
>decreasing. Nintendo's university in Washington State delivers
>just-in-time-knowledge and outright ignores the humanities. All what is
>needed from the worker is a particular set of skills necessary for an
>upcoming project. Such de-skilling is common practice in new media trade
>schools worldwide that follow the corporate imperative that rejects
>Alexander Humboldt's non-pragmatic notion of education for its own sake,
>later "Americanized" at Harvard University. Education is a central
>problem and in particular the global distribution of knowledge is a
>burning problem. The literacy rate in the United States is lower than
>that in Mexico. Initially I asked how we can overcome all these problems
>if we see them as secondary in relation to technology. I do believe that
>technology has a role to play in this context.
>If we exclude technology from our projections and ideas for social
>change and the future, if we do not even attempt to occupy the
>technological imaginary, then possibilities and probabilities are
>foreclosed by technological elite and their default vision of the market
>and the military-industrial complex kicks in. There is more to
>technology than profit, fun and power.
>"Technological development is a scene in which various competing groups
>attempt to advance their interests and their corresponding
>civilizational projects. Many technically feasible outcomes are possible
>and not just the one imposed by the victors in the struggle." (Feenberg,
>2002: 143)
>Our projections should be probable and go beyond computer game visions.
>The capitalist context into which most of us are socialized made us
>believe that there is a somewhat "natural," transhistorical
>inevitability to technological development under the banner of the
>market. What are the interests of the players in the realm of the
>technical sphere? Do we still realize how human values are
>systematically naturalized in this process? Almost everything practical
>wins and efficiency is the big common denominator. The assembly line
>arguably led to the emergence of self-help, followed by
>psycho-pharmaceutical fixes of the "non-functional individual,"
>proposing that what is wrong is really the worker herself and not the
>environment that causes her dissatisfaction, anxiety and depression.
>Today, addiction to networked devices is a growing and very serious
>Markets determine the development of the tools we are using and they
>shape our way of life. Economical values are the payoff for human
>potentialities in this society. Our life style, soaked up with
>technology, directly feeds into hegemonic domination. The interests of
>those in power are inscribed in the technical code, its machines and
>networks. Technologies are not just tools and things because they are
>not independent or isolated. They exist in relation to market
>relationships; they are embedded in a web of social players, market
>forces and institutions. Hegemonic interests are cemented into code and
>law. Programmers and technologists mold their image of the world and
>that of those with whom they work onto their creations. Therefore, the
>sandbox of technological development is not neutral. "Technology is not
>a destiny but a scene of struggle. It is a social battlefield, or
>perhaps a better metaphor would be 'parliament of things' in which
>civilizational alternatives contend. What it means to be human is
>decided in large part in the shape of our tools." [2]
>Now, every place can be a work place according to the teleco Sprint.
>Itunes makes sharing music harder and harder with every new version of
>its products. Music files are files are pushed into more and more
>proprietary formats. The BlackBerry keeps the office worker on the
>global leash of the manager. Even in the doctor's office the man in the
>brown suit can get accessed. His face darkens when switching on his
>little portable machine to which he is addicted. Another example is the
>debate over Net Neutrality showed how rational, common sense arguments
>as presented by the likes of Lawrence Lessig in U.S. Congress were of
>little consequence. Corporate interests and not democratic participatory
>politics dictate what will happen to the Internet. Even explicit
>repeated public comments by the inventor of the World Wide Web make no
>difference. To make the process of technological transformation more
>participatory is a worthy goal.
>The networked machine has conquered time. Today, people are forced into
>jobs that require workers to carry a pager (or take a pay cut if they
>object). Such precarious labor processes deeply impact urban planning.
>In the current capitalist system, the imperative of efficiency outscores
>human fulfillment and democratic participation. Technological
>development is market-driven, which signifies that the primary goal is
>not to shape a better life but to make profit and gain power. "Different
>worlds, flowing from different technical arrangements, privilege some
>aspects of the human being and marginalize others." [3] What does our
>list discussion celebrate thus far? What did we respond to and what was
>pushed to the periphery?
>The hopeful side of technology emphasizes mutual aid, cooperation,
>collaboration, and collective intelligence and it weakens participatory
>control. It is in search of novel, self-organized networked socialities.
>The odd term and interesting concept of the creative industries can
>become the context for thinking of an alliance of laborers (i.e. unions)
>enabled by emerging technologies.
>For the techno-priesthood the future looks always glitzy; just trust
>what is to come. It will all be good. But on the contrary, we should ask
>what technology could do about society's desperate crisis. The tools
>that we are using shape our way of life as much as the politicians who
>rule our countries. The latter is crucial, as everyday laborers need to
>be involved in the process of technological development. If this would
>succeed even to some extend then citizens would understand themselves
>more as active contributors rather than armchair passengers.
>One response to the developmental process exists on the tactical
>micro-political level. Many art projects fall into this category.
>Feenberg calls this the "margin of maneuver of the dominated" receiver
>of technology. A small dog is biting an elephant, which makes the latter
>feel more alive. Small-scale tactical interventions meet big scale
>authoritarian technics, which also in Marcuse's view get readily
>absorbed into the capitalist spectacle of democracy. Jacques Ellul even
>believed that given the whole "ensemble of techniques" such tactical
>micro-interventions are insignificant. Where does that leave us?
>Right now, effective participation in the technological design process
>is not in place. In "Transforming Technology" Andrew Feenberg calls for
>a politics of technological transformation and proposes widespread,
>democratic participation in the process of shaping technologies. "To the
>extent that we technicize the public sphere by transferring its
>functions to experts, we destroy the very meaning of democracy."
>(Feenberg, 2002: 9) While Feenberg does not provide concrete examples or
>proposals of how to reach such participation (short of waiting for the
>next round of real socialism), he is right to demand civic involvement.
>The development of technology must be grounded in the actual interests
>of those who will use them.
>Steve Kurtz argues in a similar manner that science, and biotechnology
>in particular, should not be left to the experts. If we want to occupy
>the imaginary of the field of situated technologies and networked
>objects, or The Internet of Things, ways of public participation in
>technical decisions need to be considered. A clear language that cuts
>across disciplines is a starting point that let's "ordinary people"
>understand what technologists and architects and art historians and
>sociologists and artists are talking about. How can we achieve
>contestation of technological ideas if we can't cut across professional
>language and perhaps disciplinary hubris or even old boys clubs? At a
>time of steep decline of civic participation and much increased
>interaction online, what would motivate people to get involved in, for
>example, contribute ideas for networked objects and situated
>technologies or an Internet of Things to an online repository, thus
>co-shaping this debate? How many people on this list of almost 900
>people understand after 3 months of discussion what the Internet of
>Things or networked objects or situated technologies stand for? (I am as
>guilty of that as anybody.) Clear communication to the non-initiated
>non-expert (who will adapt to these technologies) is a start to a
>democratic participatory process of technological development. How else
>will people get a sense of responsibility and ownership in these
>developmental processes that are otherwise totally guided by corporate
>interests? How can we build feedback loops for people whose life will be
>changed or at least impacted by emerging technology? How can these
>participants in technological life style speak up about the application
>of this or that invention in their actual lives? Or, is it their fate to
>merely obey technological trends?
>-Trebor Scholz
>[1] http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/188/report_display.asp
>[2] Feenberg, A. (2002) Transforming Technology. New York: Oxford
>University Press. p15
>[3] Ibid. p19
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Adriene Jenik
Associate Professor, Computer & Media Arts
Visual Arts Dept., University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92093-0084
tel. 858 822-2059       fax 858 534-7976

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