Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Technology as emergent

Having just started for the MOOC Edcmooc (E-learning and digital cultures) today, I've been reading about technological determinism and the essentialism some people view technology as having - either democratizing or anti-demoncritizing for example, and the inherent dualism between society and culture on the one hand, and technology on the other. Do digital cultures in and of themselves have a teleology, a direction in which they point.

A book worthy of reading (though I don't buy into all of the metaphysical assumptions) is Stuart Kauffman's Reinventing the sacred. Here, he examines the idea of emergence - the appearance of something genuinely new that could not have readily been predicted or simulated from is component parts (epistemological emergence) and therefore partially lawless and new (ontological emergence).

He gives the example of the tractor. How can you take a huge engine and produce a stable vehicle? Simple, make the engine block the chassis. But who would have thought ahead of time an engine block could serve as a chassis anymore than evolution could have suggested a fish swim bladder would become a pair of lungs?

The point is that given the complexity of the interplay between 'pure technology' and culture, the various histories that form internet technologies and the competing hegemonies and interests, what is has emerged from what was and what will be can only be partially known now. So what will we bring to the table from the cultural/worldview end that will shape digital cultures and elearning for the better?

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