Franklin (2004). Chapter 5 (The Real World Of Technology).

Franklin, U. M. (2004). Chapter 5 (The Real World Of Technology). In The Real World Of Technology (Revised edition). Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

“… the division of labour characteristic of prescriptive technologies has resulted in the acculturation of people into a culture of conformity and compliance.” (p 91)

“Ivan Illich pointed out in his 1981 essay, _Shadow Work_,1 that prescriptive technologies, particularly those in the administrative and social — service sectors, produce the desired results only when clients — for instance, parents, students, or patients — comply faithfully and to the letter with the prescriptions of the system.” (p 91)

“Thus, as more and more of daily life in the real world of technology is conducted via prescriptive technologies, the logic of technology begins to overpower and displace other types of social logic, such as the logic of compassion or the logic of obligation, the logic of ecological survival or the logic of linkages into nature.” (p 92)

[Reference to Marcuse2 (p 92)]

“Wellsprings of creativity and freedom from toil seem to be just around the corner. In this phase technologies create human bonds and a sense of excitement in people who feel grateful to be part of such wonderful, progressive times. The voices of reservation sound like disgruntled skeptics, fearful of change …” (p 93)

[Reference to McLuhan4 (p 94)]

“There is an effort to build up user communities brimming over with warm feelings of sharing newly won expertise.” (p 96)

“There’s also the language of computers to support this image of harmless domesticity. One speaks of booting up and boilerplates; one talks about mouse and menu. The user has the feeling of choice and control, of mastery and a comfortable relationship with the machine and with other users.” (p 98)

“If one doesn’t watch the introduction of new technologies and particularly watch the infrastructures that emerge, promises of liberation through technology can, become a ticket to enslavement.” (p 98)

“The authors of this prognostication evidently assumed that the introduction of the sewing machine would result in more sewing — and easier sewing — by those who had always sewn.” (p 99)

“Reality turned out to be quite different. With the help of the new machines, sewing came to be done in a factory [page break] setting, in sweatshops that exploited the labour of women and particularly the labour of women immigrants. Sewing machines became, in fact, synonymous not with liberation but with exploitation.” (p 99-100)

“What turns the promised liberation into enslavement are not the products of technology per se — the car, the computer, or the sewing machine — but the structures and infrastructures that are put in place to facilitate the use of these products and to develop dependency on them.” (p 100)

“… many new technologies and their products have entered the public sphere in a cloud of hope, imagination, and anticipation. In many cases’ these hopes were to begin with fictional, rather than real; even in the best of circumstances they were vastly exaggerated. Discussion focused largely on individuals, whether users or workers, and promised an easier life with liberation from toil and drudgery. Discourse never seemed to focus on the effects of the use of the same device by a large number of people, nor was there any focus on the organizational and industrial implications of the new technologies, other than in the vaguest of terms.

“In spite of the exaggerated individual promises, techniques were treated as if they would fit easily into ‘normal life.’ Carefully selected phrases used to describe new technical advances could generate an image of chummy communities and adventurous users. But once a given technology is widely accepted and standardized, the relationship between the products of the technology and the users changes. Users have less scope, they matter less, and their needs are no longer the main concern of the designers.” (p 101)

“There exists now a substantial body of documentation showing how teaching, research, and practice in most areas of science and technology follow essentially male patterns by being basically hierarchical, authoritarian, competitive, and exclusive.8” (p 102)

“As I’ve done in these lectures, I outlined in the paper the nature of prescriptive technologies and interpreted what working within them entails. I contrasted this mode of working to women’s historical experience of situational and holistic work. The success of such work depends strongly on personal judgement, on knowledge of the total work process, and on the ability to discern what the essential variables are at any one time. None of these attributes of knowledge and judgement are required in modern industrial production and, in fact, they’re usually not appreciated in workers.” (p 103)

“_When Old Technologies Were New_ documents the interplay between the introduction of the new technologies and changes in social relations. The book also illustrates the phase of wild imagination, of exaggerated hopes for and irrational fears about the new technical developments …” (p 105)

“In order to establish the technology, it was necessary to find and develop appropriate uses for the telephone and to establish these uses as part of a normal way of living and doing business. The telephone operator was the link between the new technology and the community. Let me stress that the operators· were not mechanical or electrical links; they were human links.” (p 106)

“During this phase, in which various applications of telephone and telegraph communication were developed and tested, the operators were the central participants in the experiments. One could at that time not imagine the telephone working without an operator. The operator’s role was that of an operating and trouble — shooting engineer as well as that of a facilitator.” (p 107)

“What does it say about our society, when human needs for fellowship and warmth are met by devices that provide illusions to the users and profits to the suppliers?

“The reason I find this particular application of technology so upsetting is that as a response to loneliness, it seems to me deceitful and fraudulent. There are no shortcuts to the investment of time and care in friendship and human [page break] bonding, and it is fraudulent to pretend otherwise. When human loneliness becomes a source of income for others through devices, we’d better stop and think a bit about the place of human needs in the real world of technology.” (p 108-109)

[Reference to Weiner13 (p 109)]

“Early typewriters experienced difficulties with jamming hammers and keys; this happened especially when the letters that were typed were located close to each other on the keyboard and on the bank of hammers that the typist activated. As the [page break] operators began to type faster, the keys couldn’t rise and fall back quickly enough and got tangled.

“So Remington commissioned a study into the frequency of letter associations. From this the designers would know which keys were likely to be used sequentially. On the basis of such information, a new keyboard and a new arrangement of hammers was designed. Now the keys and hammers that would be used in sequence during typing were physically separated as widely as possible. This meant much more effort had to go into the typing, but the problem of jamming was ‘solved’ as a technical issue. Thus mechanical design considerations, rather than the ease of typing, have given the world the peculiar keyboard
that is even today on all typewriters and terminals.” (p 109-110)

“These episodes from the history of the telephone and the typewriter say something about the place of the operators in technical development and their essential role in making technology work. But they also tell us some — thing about the disregard that technical designers can have for the needs of operators.” (p 110)

Selected Notes

  • 1. Ivan Illich … essay “Vernacular values” in Shadow Work (Boston: M. Boyars, 1981).
  • 2. Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964).
  • 4. Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951).
  • 8. Joan Rothschild, ed., Machina Ex Dea: Feminist Perspectives on Technology (Toronto: Pergamon Press, 1983); Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986); Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985); Cynthia Cockburn, Machinery of Dominance (London: Pluto Press, 1985).
  • 12 … Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). …
  • 13. Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings, 2nd edition (New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1954).
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