Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Are Researchers Slaves to Technology?

This week’s topic has me pondering Digital technology and the internet as resources that have made vast amounts of information available for researchers, Meaning that these days researcher would be hard pressed to undertake a project without the use of these technological tools. However, the design and structure of these objects can have direct results on a social scientist’s work. Matt Ratto’s article “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life” and Langdon Winner’s article “Citizen virtues in a technological order” advocate individuals being part of technology creation processes.  Winner argues for the creation of public spaces consisting individuals with diverse backgrounds working together to create systems serve everyone’s needs (2008, pg. 354-359).  Ratto describes critical making as the connection of critical thinking and practical goal based material work (2011, pg. 253). Through this he aims to move technologies functioning from “a matter of fact” to “a matter of concern” (Ratto, 2011, pg. 259). From this statement, I derive that the design of the technologies do not have to determine all, but if one has an understanding of the design of these technologies they will be able to understand the effects they have as well as have an influence on them.

In my role as a small-scale social science researcher I might not directly engage in critical making or be involved in a public space devoted to the design of technology, but the ideas provided have important lessons. Technology does not have to be the determinant of research results. An understanding of the working of these systems will allow me to understand how they may affect my work so that I may use the systems in the way that best suits me.

Featured Articles

Ratto, M. (2011). Critical making: conceptual and material studies in technology and social life. The Information Society, 27(4).

Winner, L. (1992). Citizen virtues in a technological order. Inquiry, 35, 341-61.


  1. This reminds me of a question that came up in our last class about the actual value of technology. Do we in some cases use newer technologies simply because of access, even though older (and perhaps wiser) technologies would do a better job? The example given was that of paper surveys.

    I can't remember the exact response, but the prof noted something about technological determinism, and used the analogy of 'everything seeming nail like, if one has a hammer.' I've never fully understood how to apply that analogy to my actual life, but whenever I hear it, images of hammers and nails appear, and I start trying to figuratively put them together...am I shaping my environment, (i.e. existence), or is it shaping me?

    In this case, I started thinking of the technology in the room; the MAC I'd borrowed from the Inforum, the table in front of me, the chair I was sitting on, the classroom windows, projector, screens, ceiling, text book; and that sort of extended into how I got there that morning; the trains, roads, staircase, entrance ways, elevators, etc. I'd like to believe I chose my actions that morning, and perhaps to some extent I did, but would the outcome have been different had the technologies been different; and by extension, the thoughts and emotions experienced, I think most definitely!

    The term ‘technological determinism’ suggests that our course is determined by the technologies we’re exposed to, but as you've noted in your post, "the design of the technologies do not have to determine all...if one has an understanding of the design of these technologies they will be able to understand the effects they have as well as have an influence on them." - Mandi Arlain

  2. Yup, I also think that "technological determinism" implies a chain of causal effects, all of which necessarily follow from the other. The interplay between technologies and our daily practices seems more a matter of reciprocal, relational influence...But the line between influence and effect is fine indeed!