Manifesto: Sarah Groat

We should define what we mean when talking about “technology”.

The purpose of this statement is to highlight the importance of defining our terms. Without a clear definition of what we mean, a disconnect can arise between parties, resulting in confusion. Not only that, but general application of a term can lead to categorizing everything that falls under that term in the same way. Throughout this class, I’ve noticed a few general statements being made such as: “Technology is causing ” or “Technology is affecting ”. Even if we specified “digital technology,” this is still too broad. There are many different objects that fall into that category. We might actually mean social media, or smartphones, or digital watches. Kevin Kelly does a great job of defining his terms in What Technology Wants. He directly states, “This is what I mean by ‘technology,’ and this is what I mean by ‘technium.’” From there he could proceed through a (relatively) coherent book, and we know that when he says “technology,” it may be different from how we think of technology. I think defining our terms in every area of discourse is necessary. It should be included in the manifesto to remind ourselves and other readers not to make generalizations and lump all technologies into one category, or all digital technologies into one category. I think keeping this in mind will enable us to continue to think critically about technologies and the human experience. We should think about each piece of technology separately and stay away from blanket statements, keeping in mind context and situational differences.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. Chapter 1. New York: Viking, 2010. Print.

We should not hail or condemn social media, but instead let people make personal choices about how they want to use it.

There seem to be two prevalent ideas in our culture at the moment: 1) that social media is driving people apart and causing them to be “alone together”; and 2) that it’s the ultimate democratizer, bringing people together and uniting them under causes. I don’t see either of these things; social media is just a tool through which people act. I felt really frustrated while reading Turkle’s book and seeing all these generalized “we” statements about social media made from individual personal anecdotes. I don’t really see social media eroding personal relationships between people, causing individuals to be more solitary and isolated. In a lot of ways, I see people coming together through social media. I read an article today about the role of social media within the tech industry after Hurricane Sandy. Many businesses used Twitter and the hashtag #sandycoworking to help small companies without power find workspace in offices with power. The result was that many offices become coworking spaces and power stations. The article even concludes that the tech industry, whose members work largely over the internet through programs like Skype, is an remarkably “caring community.” However, on the flip side, it’s absurd to believe that without social media sites like Twitter, people wouldn’t be able to organize for each other or unite under causes. After all, we were able to do so just fine before Twitter. Twitter and other social media sites just provide other means. In this way, we can stop seeing social media as an active agent that shapes us to its will, and instead see it as what it is: a tool to be utilized.

Although it is always important to contemplate the human condition, we should hesitate to declare problems within it as a direct result of technology.

To be certain, humanity in the modern age is dealing with important issues of the human experience: a yearning for deeper intimacy; a facing of human frailty; a searching for meaning. We’re not focusing, we’re losing our ability to think, and we’re dissatisfied and unfulfilled. However, some people like Sherry Turkle are too quick to declare these consequences of the digital age. A review of her book I read hit the nail on the head. I don’t perceive our dissatisfaction with the way humanity is living to be anything new. With each new generation and age of innovation come those who worry about its impact, who are convinced things were better “in the old days.” Yet children have always have trouble focusing in class; you’ve always had to wonder if your friend is a true friend; we’ve always been frustrated with the difficulty of relationships. People have always felt a little lost when searching for meaning and fulfillment in their lives. I don’t see any new problems here. It’s important to think about these issues, and about how to bring deeper fulfillment of our goals and desires, but they are issues outside of technology. Technology just adds a different dimension. I think by looking at it in this way, we could actually have a clearer and more meaningful understanding of the human experience, rather than getting bogged down by each subsequent era of technologies that are supposedly the cause of these issues. In addition, I think it would allow us to better think about technologies on an individual basis, which leads me to my next statement…

Individuals should take responsibility for how a piece technology influences their life and ask if it serves their purposes.

I recognize that many of us are feeling frustration with the influence of technology in our lives. These are real issues. Unfortunately, I see it often followed by a statement on how we as a society need to make decisions about the technology. Problems that are exacerbated by digital technologies shouldn’t be solved by collective decision, but I rather think they are best solved by individuals making decisions about what’s best for them. For instance, it takes a lot of self-control for me limit my time on the internet. This is why I do not have a smartphone – I don’t want to constantly have access to the internet. But this isn’t a problem inherent in the technology. Objects don’t have inherent qualities; and once you believe that they do, it’s easier to blame that object, to declare it good or bad, and to start believing others should feel the same. Maybe someone else gets a lot of value and enjoyment out of being able to post to Twitter on his smartphone all the time. It’s not up to us to declare how others should value a piece of technology or how they should use it. Rather, individuals should have the power to evaluate the roles of certain technologies in their lives and whether or not it serves their goals and purposes, as I did when I made the decision to avoid getting a smartphone. I think if we viewed this issue in this way, it would actually empower individuals, to know that they do have control over what influences their lives.

Email services such as Google and Yahoo should protect their users’ privacy.

One aspect of the internet that I find legitimately concerning is the ease of online surveillance. The state has access to massive amounts of information on each of us through the internet if they desire it. One of the most vulnerable areas is email. We send private information to friends and family through email, expecting that this medium should essentially have the same privacy as a letter sent through snail mail. This is not the case, and in this realm, Google and Yahoo are not your friends. These companies are both extremely quick to open their records to federal observance if the state believes a crime has been committed. Extremely worrisome to me is the fact that emails six months old or older don’t need a warrant to be accessed. Imagine if a letter you sent six months ago was suddenly up for grabs if law enforcement wanted it. Furthermore, often Google and Yahoo won’t wait for a formal warrant, and sometimes give up more information than is requested or legal. Like Vaidhyanathan’s book states, mass surveillance of citizens by government is nothing new, but in an age when it is so easy, and the government is ever more intrusive, we should expect Google, Yahoo, and other email services to protect the privacy interests of their users. Online surveillance should be taken seriously by all users. Google and Yahoo should not so readily release information to the U.S. government, but in the meantime we should be aware that what we send through email is not private. By being aware of these issues we can better protect our right to privacy.

We should refrain from making statements about the sentience of technology.

Technology is not alive, it does not think on its own, it is not aware of itself, and it does not want. To want is to suffer an emotion; technology does not have the capability of emotion. It is not sentient, therefore it has no sentient functions and we should not refer to it as having such. If the human element was taken out of technology, it would not continue to evolve and progress on its own. Creative thinkers devise innovations they think consumers will want; either consumers want them and the products are a success, or they do not and the products fail. The technology does not continue to exist if humans do not want it to. To apply living qualities to technology is unhealthy. By saying technology wants something from us, it seems to me to take the responsibility away from human action. It affects the way we view technologies. If in the future technology does become sentient, that is a problem to worry about then. It is useless and absurd to try and direct the progress of technology now to try and avoid that happening. It creates moral problems that simply are not there. By removing this idea of sentience from technology, we can view technology in a more positive light and hold more rational discussions on it.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking, 2010. Print.