Technological developments for the digital environment

8. Tools/Technologies/artifacts transform reality

  • In effect, this is a sort of modified determinism that sides with McLuhan and notes that the use to which we put tools
    • is not always self conscious
    • does not always depend on the tool or the use, either, being the right one.
    • Historically speaking, technologies HAVE moved in and on, pushing older technologies and ways of being to the side (esp. in capitalism).
      • John Culkin (a media scholar in line with McLuhan) wrote "we shape our tools and thereafter they shape us"
  • Tools are occasions for redefinition of goals and meanings.
  • Artifacts are interfaces between\actors and environments.
  • Artifacts embody the principles and practices of a given culture.
  • Artifacts enable and constrain.
  • Artifacts have politics and are involved in struggles for socioeconomic control.
  • Artifacts modify practices, abilities, competencies, ways of thinking and ways of being.
  • McLuhan wrote that technologies change the sense ratios . . . extending some, dampening others. Postman argued that mediums have "preferences."
    • As technologies "enable" by "increasing abilities," they numb other functions
    • Technologies also alienate us from the previous (more natural?) condition. Sometimes the trade offs seem really good; at other times, not so much.
    • Although many argue in favor of the "neutrality" of tools and the importance of the uses to which they are put, historically speaking, this view is probably naivee, or at least, ignores many aspects of the long history of technological developments.

The following two article summaries (and links) to the work of Tsandilas and Macka are examples and not formally part of the concept.

Is paper safer? The role of paper flight strips in air traffic control" (Tsandilas, T. and Mackay)

"Air traffic control is a complex, safety-critical activity, with well-established and successful work practices. Yet many attempts to automate the existing system have failed because controllers remain attached to a key work artifact: the paper flight strip. This article describes a four-month intensive study of a team of Paris en-route controllers in order to understand their use of paper flight strips. The article also describes a comparison study of eight different control rooms in France and the Netherlands. Our observations have convinced us that we do not know enough to simply get rid of paper strips, nor can we easily replace the physical interaction between controllers and paper strips.These observationshighlight the benefits of strips, including qualities difficult to quantify and replicate in new computer systems. Current thinking offers two basic alternatives: maintaining the existing strips without computer support and bearing the financial cost of limiting the air traffic, or replacing the strips with automated versions, which offer potential benefits in terms of increased efficiency through automation, but unknown risks through radical change of work practices. We conclude with a suggestion for a third alternative: to maintain the physical strips, but turn them into the interface to the computer. This would allow controllers to build directly upon their existing, safe work practices with paper strips, while offering them a gradual path for incorporating new computer-based functions. Augmented paper flight strips allow us to take advantage of uniquely human skills in the physical world, and allows us to leave the user interface and its subsequent evolution in the hands of the people most responsible, the air traffic controllers themselves."

Paper in additoinal contexts: Music and biology.

Tsandilas, T. and Mackay, W. (2010) Knotty Gestures: Subtle Traces to Support Interactive Use of Paper. In Proceedings of ACM AVI 2010 Advanced Visual Interfaces, Rome, Italy, pp. 147-154. [downloads a .pdf]

"For users like composers of contemporary music and biology researchers, paper continues to play an important role. Composers of contemporary music use paper at different stages of the composition process, from sketching initial ideas to working on final scores. Biology researchers, on the other hand, rely on paper notebooks to record research protocols, data and results. Clarity is important for both groups of users, and writing is performed with great discipline. At the same time, writing involves reflection, calculation and experimentation. Several composers make decisions on rhythms,
silences and other musical entities while working on paper. Similarly, biologists use paper to reflect on data, make calculations on top of them, identify patterns, and comment on them."



Concept 8 Analysis article:

"The New Chat Bots Could Change the World. Can You Trust Them?"

Want to learn more?

Cathy O'Neil. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Crown Publishing, 2016.

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