Franklin (2004). Chapter 3 (The Real World Of Technology.)

Franklin, U. M. (2004). Chapter 3. In The Real World Of Technology (Revised edition). Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

“Any task tends to be structured by the available tools. It [page break] can appear that the available tools represent the best or even the only way to deal with a situation.” (p 49-50)

“The real world of technology is a very complex system. And nothing in my survey or its highlights should be interpreted as _technological determinism_ or as a belief in the autonomy of technology _per se_. What needs to be emphasized is that technologies are developed and used within a particular social, economic, and political context.1 They arise out of a social structure, they are grafted on to it, and they may reinforce it or destroy it, often in ways that are neither foreseen nor foreseeable.” (p 51)

“At the time, in the 1740s, a very influential book was published by La Mettrie called _L’Homme-machine_, which means ‘man-the-machine.’ … Foucault points out that the discovery of the body as object and instrument of power led to a host of regimes of control for the efficient operations of these bodies, whether they were the efficiencies of movement, the measured intervals of the organization of physical activities, or the careful analysis and timing of the tasks bodies could perform, usually in unison. Foucault reminds us that in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the disciplines of exercise, training, and work became, in general, the prescriptions for domination.” (p 53)

“To plan with and for technology became the Industrial Revolution’s strongest dream.” (p 55)

“The emergence of new social patterns in the eighteenth century offers an understanding of how the massive changes of the Industrial Revolution could have taken place in such a short time and with relatively little social upheaval. In turn, the change in the structure of society and the nature and organization of work and production during the Industrial Revolution became a pattern onto which our real world of technology with its much more extended and sophisticated restructuring is grafted.” (p 56)

“Industrial layout and design was often more a case [page break] of planning _against_ undesirable or unpredictable interventions than it was of planning _for_ greater and more predictable output and profit.” (p 56-57)

“Lord Byron, for instance, gave a passionate speech in the House of Lords on behalf of the weavers who resisted the new technological arrangements. There were interesting proposals for alternatives, particularly the plans by Robert Owen and his associates.^11 They addressed the concerns of control in the workplace through organizational innovations such as profit-sharing among workers and cooperative labour practices.” (p 59)

“The proponents of technology in the 1840s were very enthusiastic about replacing workers with machines. But somehow I find no indication that they realized that while production could be carried out with few workers and still run to high outputs, _buyers_ would be needed for these outputs. The realization that though the need for workers decreased, the need for purchasers could increase, did not seem to be part of the discourse on the machinery question. Since then, however, technology and its promoters have had to create a social institution — _the consumer_ — in order to deal with the increasingly tricky problem that machines can _produce_, but it is usually people who consume.” (p 60)

“One of the reasons I emphasize the link between public policies related to the provision of infrastructures and the spread of technology is the following: Rarely are there public discussions about the merits or problems of adopting a particular technology. … Regardless of who might own railways or transmission lines, radio [page break] … frequencies or satellites, the public sphere provides the space, the permission, the regulation, and the finances for much of the research. It is the public sphere that grants the ‘right of way.’ It seems to be high time that we, as citizens, become concerned about the granting of such technological rights of way.” (p 64-65)

“However, underneath the public agenda there is often an agenda that is very specific and sectoral. Public planning for the needs of private industry and for the expansion of technology has gone well beyond the provision of physical infrastructures. There are tax and grant structures, and there is the impact of the needs of technology on the preparation and training of the labour force. Thus, future citizens may gain in computer literacy at the expense of moral literacy or knowledge of history, and it seems to me quite debatable which agenda of education is more in the public interest.” (p 65)

“For this reason I would like to distinguish between divisible and indivisible benefits and divisible and indivisible costs.” (p 65)

“Normally one considers it the obligation of governments, whose institutions are funded through a taxation system, to attend to those aspects of society that provide indivisible benefits — justice and peace, as well as clean air, sanitation, drinkable water, safe roads, equal access to education; public institutions, from courts and schools to regulatory and enforcement systems, developed to do these public tasks. In other words, there is historically the notion that citizens surrendered some of their individual autonomy (and some of their money) to the state for the protection and advancement of the ‘common good’ — that is, indivisible benefits.” (p 66)

“Technology has changed this notion about the obligations of a government to its citizens.” (p 66)

“Because of the nature of the infrastructures and the thrust of planning, it is not surprising that public and corporate planning overlap significantly. … Expert advice comes from professionals who move with ease between governments and technological enterprises. They are educated together. They are usually of the same social class and rarely are they at the receiving end of the plans they devise.” (p 68)

Selected Notes

  • 1. Heather Menzies, Fast Forward and Out of Control (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1989); Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman, eds., The Social Shaping of Technology: How the Refrigerator Got its Hum (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985).
  • 11. Robert Owen, A View of Society and Report to the County of Lanark, V. A.G. Cattrell, ed., (London, 1962); Robert Owen, The Life of Robert Owen, Written by Himself (New York: A. M. Kelley Publishers, 1967); Sidney Pollard and J. Salt, eds., Robert Owen, Prophet of the Poor (London: Macmillan, 1971).
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