Thursday, April 4, 2013

technology stories


Ohmann helps us think about the various kinds of storylines we tell about technologies:
  • All but the last storyline have drawbacks from a feminist point of view, but you still need to notice why even feminists might tell such stories:
  • Especially you want to notice which storylines you tend to use yourself, that is to say, how your assumptions position you inside one or more of these stories, and what you might want to do about that.
  • I am going to use tv in my examples of each of these "narratives":
STORYLINE ONE: technological determinism:the narrative in which we elaborate the social consequences that follow inevitably upon "the seemingly accidental invention" of the tv
a person using this storyline could say, for example:
"TV caused middle-class families of the 50s to retreat from community life and intensify their nuclear focus huddled together around the warm glow of the living room tv set."another example is when a journalist says:
"technologies acquire historical weight by reshaping the human condition."THE PROBLEM WITH THIS STORYLINE:
it misleadingly suggests that consequences are inevitable, that technologies are singular, and that human intentions are incidental to technological inventionWHY PEOPLE MIGHT USE THIS STORYLINE:
it offers a dramatic sense of discontinuity and significance, and makes it clear we live in historical flux.
STORYLINE TWO: symptomatic technology:the narrative in which TV, invented on the social margins, is used by central forces informing society
a person using this storyline could say, for example:
"Our children have become either passive zombies or ravenous consumers of junk through their long hours of tv viewing."another example is when a progressive critic says:
"Digital hype abut the AOL-Time Warner merger is a symptom of rapacious late capitalism’s death grip on every new market."THE PROBLEM WITH THIS STORYLINE:
it misleadingly suggests that technological invention is marginal to other, more important great social forces which exploit such inventionWHY PEOPLE MIGHT USE THIS STORYLINE:
it conveys great urgency for change, and sometimes accompanies a manifesto for how to accomplish such change, detailing good guys and bad guys.
STORYLINE THREE: neutral technology:the narrative in which TV can be put to an amazing multitude of uses, oppresive and democratic, sexist and feminist, altruistic and profit-making.

a person using this storyline could say, for example:
"TV could either contribute to or work against teenage drinking; for every ad for drinking visible during the broadcast of athletic events, there is also some anti-drinking homily delivered by national and local stations and advertizers."another example is when an activist says:
"Computers are not the problem, it is everyone not having access to them that is the concern."THE PROBLEM WITH THIS STORYLINE:
it misleadingly suggests that technologies are not created within fields of power
WHY PEOPLE MIGHT USE THIS STORYLINE:
it might allow people who see an "other side," to instead de-escalate their rhetoric and reconsider with whom they want to make allies.
all three storylines make invisibleprocesses of the production of the technology and their agents and intentions.instead we should think of technology as"itself a social process, saturated by the power relations around it, continually reshaped according to some people’s intentions." (Ohmann)all three storylines create mystifications
  • mystifications: make something appear natural, normal, acceptable, real, taken for granted.
  • Some grammatical and linguistic clues Ohmann points out, that show that a mystification is taking place:
1. phrases like "the computer" "as if it were a single stable device."
2. using such phrases as grammatical agents (subjects of sentences) and
3. using phrases like "man," "the mind," and "the human condition."
Example of such mystifications: (from Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy)
"the alphabet or print or the computer enters the mind, producing new states of awareness there."The problem with this kind of sentence is that it is
"implying that the technology somehow came before someone’s intention to enable some minds to do some things….[making it appear] that technologies interact with people or with ‘culture’ in global, undifferentiated ways…." (Ohmann)
rather than remembering that:technology is "itself a social process, saturated by the power relations around it, continually reshaped according to some people’s intentions." (Ohmann)
WE CAN CALL A FEMINIST DE-MYSTIFICATION:
technology as frozen social relations
"[where technologies serve] as an arena of interaction among classes, races, and other groups of unequal power." (Ohmann) "technology as frozen social relations" is a term used by feminist technoscience theorist Donna Haraway.
such feminist demystifications allow us to create newly usable pasts (consider Marguerite Makes a Book) and alternative presents (consider Harcourt) and imagine possible futures(consider feminist SF, such as Suzette Hadin Elgin's Na├»ve Tongue); and to scrutinize pasts, presents and futures such as the ones we explore in Star Trek and Xena.

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