Franklin (2004). Chapter 1 (The Real World Of Technology.)

Franklin, U. M. (2004). Chapter 1. In The Real World Of Technology (Revised edition, pp. 1–26). Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

“_My interest is in contributing to clarity_. I want to know as much as possible about the house that technology has built, about its secret passages and about its trapdoors. … Technology, like democracy, includes ideas and practices; it includes myths and various models of reality. And like democracy, technology changes the social and individual relationships between us.” (p 2)

“_technology as practice_ … Technology is a _system_. It entails far more [page break] than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset.” (p 2-3)

“Technology also needs to be examined as an agent of power and control, and I will try to show how much modern technology drew from the prepared soil of the structures of traditional institutions, such as the church and the military.” (p 3)

“I myself am overawed by the way in which technology has acted to reorder and restructure social relations, not only affecting the relations between social groups, but also the relations between nations and individuals, and between all of us and our environment. To a new generation, many of these changed relationships appear so normal, so inevitable, that they are taken as given and are not questioned.” (p 4)

“It is my conviction that nothing short of a global reformation of major social forces and of the social contract can end this historical period of profound and violent transformations, and give a manner of security to the world and to its citizens. … The viability of technology, like democracy, depends in the end on the practice of justice and on the enforcement of limits to power.” (p 5)

“How does one speak about something that is both fish and water, means as well as end?” (p 6)

“Kenneth Boulding, the author of _The Image_ and many other influential books in the social sciences,4 suggested that one might think of technology as _ways of doing something_.” (p 6)

“Out of this notion of unifying practice springs the historical definition of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ … A different way of doing some- [page break] thing, a different tool for the same task, separates the outsider from the insider.” (p 6-7)

“This is how the professions were born; clergy, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and social workers all claimed the exclusive right to certain tools and to certain technologies.” (p 8)

“Another facet of the concept of technology as practice is the fact that the practice can define the content.” (p 8)

“… there are control-related technologies, those developments that do not primarily address the process of work with the aim of making it easier, but try to increase control over [page break] the operation. Think of a word processor. A freestanding word processor is indeed work-related technology. But link those word processors into a work station — that is, into a system — and the technology becomes control-related. Now workers can be timed, assignments can be broken up, and the interaction between the operators can be monitored. Most modern technological changes involve control and thus new control-related applications have increased much faster than work-related ones.5” (p 9-10)

“The distinction we need to make is between _holistic technologies and prescriptive technologies_.6” (p 10)

“Holistic technologies are normally associated with the notion of craft. …control the process of their own work from beginning to finish. … [page break] … Using holistic technologies does not mean that people do not work together, but the way in which they work together leaves the individual worker in control of a particular process of creating or doing something.” (p 10-11)

“It is the first kind of specialization, by product, that I call holistic technology, and it is important because it leaves the doer in total control of the process. The opposite is specialization by process; this I call prescriptive technology. … Here, the making or doing of something is broken down into clearly identifiable steps. … This is what is normally meant by ‘division of labour.'” (p 12)

“Understanding the social and political impact of prescriptive technologies is, in my opinion, the key to understanding our own real world of technology.” (p 13)

“… the extraordinary social meaning of prescriptive technologies dawned on me. I began to understand what they meant, not just in terms of casting bronze but in terms of discipline and planning, of organization and command.” (p 15)

“In contrast to what happens in holistic [page break] technologies, the potter who made molds in a Chinese bronze foundry had little latitude for judgement.” (p 15-16)

“Prescriptive technologies constitute a major social invention. In political terms, prescriptive technologies are _designs for compliance_.” (p 16)

“I’ve argued that the historically very early acculturation of Chinese people into prescriptive work [page break] processes must be regarded as a formative factor in the emergence of Chinese social and political thought and behaviour.12 This includes the early emergence of a Chinese bureaucracy in its all-encompassing forms, the Imperial examinations, and the stress on _li_ – the right way of doing something.” (p 16-17)

“Today’s real world of technology is characterized by the dominance of prescriptive technologies. … While we should not forget that these prescriptive technologies are often exceedingly effective and efficient, they come with an enormous social mortgage. The mortgage means that we live in a culture of compliance, that we are ever more conditioned to accept orthodoxy as normal, and to accept that there is only one way of doing ‘it.'” (p 17)

“The ordering that prescriptive technologies has caused has now moved from ordering _at_ work and the ordering _of_ work, to the prescriptive ordering of people in a wide variety of social situations.” (p 18)

“… prescriptive technologies eliminate the occasions for decision-making and judgement in general and especially for the making of _principled_ decisions. Any goal of the technology is incorporated _a priori_ in the design and is not negotiable.” (p 18)

“The acculturation to compliance and conformity has, in turn, accelerated the use of prescriptive technologies in administration, government, and social services. The same development has diminished resistance to the programming of people.” (p 19)

“… _externalities_ are considered irrelevant to the activity itself and are therefore the business of someone else.14 Think of a work situation, a production line. There are important factors — such as pollution or the physical and mental health of the workers — which in the production model are considered other people’s problems. They are externalities.” (p 21)

“Although we all know that a person’s growth in knowledge and discernment proceeds at an individual rate, schools and universities operate according to a production model. … adverse comments from captains of industry may result at universities in the establishment of extra courses such as entrepreneurship or ethics for engineers …” (p 22)

“Yet all of us who teach know that the magic moment when teaching turns into learning depends on the human setting and the quality and example of the teacher — on factors that relate to a general environment of growth [page break] rather than on any design parameters set down externally. If there ever was a growth process, if there ever was a holistic process, a process that cannot be divided into rigid predetermined steps, it is education.” (p 22-23)

“The real world of technology seems to involve an inherent trust in machines and devices (‘production is under control’) and a basic apprehension of people (‘growth is chancy, one can never be sure of the outcome’).” (p 25)

“The new production-based models and metaphors are already so deeply rooted in our social and emotional fabric that it becomes almost sacrilege to question them.” (p 26)

Selected Notes

  • 4. Kenneth E. Boulding, The Image (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1956);
  • 5. David F. Noble, “Present tense technology” in Democracy, Spring/Summer/Fall, 1983. Reprinted as a monograph, Surviving Automation Madness (San Pedro, CA: Singlejacks Books, 1985).
  • 6. Ursula M. Franklin, “The beginning of metallurgy in China, a comparative approach,” in G. Kuwayama, ed., The Great Bronze Age of China: A Symposium (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983).
  • 12. Ursula M. Franklin, J. Berthrong, and A. Chan, “Metallurgy, cosmology and knowledge: The Chinese experience,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 12:4, 1985.
  • 14. The notion of externalities and the related concept of total costing is discussed extensively, particularly in relation to technological assessment. For a general perspective, see Canada as a Conserver Society (Ottawa: Science Council of Canada, Report #27, 1977).
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