Technological Media


As a developer of information systems, I find it very important to gain a clearer understanding of how technology (or preferably: artifacts, see Hilpinen, 2011) can be used responsibly to mediate between people, other living beings, and things. This requires particular attention for unintended consequences, which are hard to predict before a product is launched, but might be better understood by studying the networks of actual users. In this context I have formulated the following open questions, that I would like to address before and during the conference.

  1. How do people adapt to/through artifacts?
  2. How do artifacts adapt to/through people?
  3. In which ways do artifacts assist and impede us from adapting to other people and to the non-human environment?
  4. What can we learn from the biological domain about how human adaptation is mediated by artifacts?

I do not hope to achieve any kind of closure on these questions. They are not per se philosophical questions, but they are abstract enough that I expect any answers to them to be situated. By that I mean that the answers will depend on who's giving them, from which viewpoint, in which time, place, and culture. Hopefully, these answers will benefit from drawing on a greater body of experiences and examples than those that I personally find relevant.

In any case, I am not talking about 'the human' and 'the artifact' as if they were fully separate abstract entities in their own right. This position has become untenable in the philosophical debate on technology, and we should rather view reality as an interwoven collection of humans and non-humans, which cannot be conceptually separated a priori (Verbeek, 2011). A network perspective therefore seems very suitable, and I would argue that it is even necessary, to study these questions empirically.

To give a concrete example from my own field of specialization, consider Facebook's Social Graph. In a view in which humans and artifacts are a priori disjointed, it can either be considered as a network of the connections between humans, or as the network of connections between Facebook profiles (being artifacts). In the view that I prefer, in which the distinction is not made, the Social Graph is the network of the connections between people, that are mediated by Facebook. Whether the purpose of this social graph is to help people make friends, or to extract value from existing social relationships (Rushkoff, 2010), Facebook is a medium. As such, it introduces biases in the interactions that take place through it. It would be foolish not to study what such biases actually entail.

References

Hilpinen, R. (2011). Artifact. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/artifact/

Rushkoff, D. (2010). Program or be Programmed. New York: OR Books.

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