Franklin (2004). Chapter 6. (The Real World of Technology.)

Franklin, U. M. (2004). Chapter 6. In The Real World of Technology (Revised edition). Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

“We looked into the so-called communications technologies and how they drastically altered the perceptions of reality. Within a very short historical period these [page break] technologies have affected perceptions of space and time and have led to new pseudorealities and pseudocommunities. I stressed the concept of reciprocity and pointed out that modern technologies are frequently designed to make reciprocity impossible. In such situations human responses can neither be given nor received. The absence of reciprocity turns many communications technologies into non-communications technologies.

“The role of governments in the promotion and support of technology changed drastically after the Industrial Revolution. Since then publicly financed infrastructures ranging from railroads to electrical distribution networks and financial and tax structures have emerged. They are largely support systems for the advancement of technology; without them, the development and acceptance of inventions such as the telephone, the automobile, and the computer could not have taken place.” (p 116-117)

“… Fritz Schumacher’s ‘Technology for a democratic society,’ a talk he gave at a conference in Switzerland in September 1977 ….8 … [page break] … The main theme of Schumacher’s last talk, though, was his concern about technology as ‘a force that forms society and today forms it so that fewer and fewer people can be real people.'” (p 119-120)

“I would like to suggest to you that the crisis of technology is actually a crisis of governance.” (p 120)

“I hold that, in fact, we have lost the _institution_ of government in terms of responsibility and accountability to the people. We now have nothing but a bunch of managers, who run the country to make it safe for technology.” (p 121)

“… if somebody robs a store, it’s a crime and the state is all set and ready to nab the criminal. But if somebody steals from the commons and from the future, it’s seen as entrepreneurial activity and the state cheers and gives them tax concessions rather than arresting them.” (p 123)

“I firmly believe that when we find certain aspects of the real world of technology objectionable we should explore our objections in terms of principle, in terms of justice, fairness, and equality.” (p 124)

“Whenever someone talks to you about the benefits and costs of a particular project, don’t ask ‘What benefits?’ ask ‘_Whose_ benefits and _whose_ costs?'” (p 126)

“Let’s make a checklist to help in the discourse on public decision-making. Should one not ask of any public project or loan whether it: (1) promotes justice; (2) restores reciprocity; (3) confers divisible or indivisible benefits; (4) favours people over machines; (5) whether its strategy maximizes [page break] gain or minimizes disaster; (6) whether conservation is favoured over waste; and (7), whether the reversible is favoured over the irreversible?” (p 127-128)

“… with every development new domains of ignorance are discovered which become evident only as the project proceeds.12 The emergence of domains of ignorance is basically quite inevitable. Some of the side effects of technical processes could not have been known and are still under study. But the existence of domains of ignorance is itself predictable. This means that it is necessary to proceed with great caution when moving into the unknown and the unknowable.” (p 128)

“But possibly even more important is the implicit attempt to keep people from challenging technology by making their direct experience appear marginal and irrelevant. This is a form of disenfranchisement, and I see disenfranchising people as one of the major obstacles to the formation and implementation of public policies that could safeguard the integrity of people and of nature. This disenfranchising has accelerated since the time of the Industrial Revolution as governments have turned their attention to the blind support of technology and its growth at the expense of other obligations.” (p 129)

“Initially useful prescriptive technologies are often applied to inappropriate tasks, as when production models and techniques are used in education.” (p 130)

Selected Notes

  • 8. E. F. Schumacher, “Technology for a democratic society,” included in George McRobie, Small Is Possible (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981).
  • 12. Henry A. Regier, “Will we ever get ahead of the problems?,” in Aquatic Toxicology and Water Quality Management, J. A. Nriagu, ed. (New York: John Wiley, 1989).
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