[Air-L] Technology as ideologically neutral?

michael gurstein gurstein at gmail.com
Sun Jul 8 06:18:00 PDT 2012

Interesting discussion... It rather parallels some thoughts I've been having
following a great interactiom with staff and students at the Ghana-India
Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT here in Accra, Ghana.

I was giving them my capsulized "Intro to Community Informatics"
presentation which in this context was focussed rather on how ICTs can
support Economic and Social Development and particularly from the grassroots
(which I guess for the purposes here argues that the the technology doesn't
itself "have an ideology" but rather is a means for the implementation of
whatever ideology is brought to it from the outside... 

At that point the conversation rather turned direction and we began to talk
more specifically about mobiles and how they are impacting in
Ghana--95%(coverage), 90% utilization vs. 5% or so fixed line, less for
stationary access to the Internet and so on.

What became clear (to me at least) as we were talking was that all of the
mobile applications that we were discussing--access to market information,
access to weather information, health notices to pregnant women--that sort
of thing were all one to one (or in a pinch many to one) applications; but
in fact, as came out in the discussion, rural villages (Ghana is still
roughly 50% rural) don't function in this kind of individualized (one to
one) information mode.  

(An example, in a recent excursion here I happened to notice that the local
artisanal in-shore fishery consists largely of boats with up to a dozen
fishermen and when it comes time to haul in the nets up to 30 or so
villagers may be involved. These folks don't need to know as individuals
what the local price of fish might be in a particular market, or what the
prospect is of a storm and thus the need to haul in the nets, or even how to
handle pre-natal information (since birthing is a village activity not
solely a family one). What is needed are means for the most rapid and
effective form of one-to-many communcation i.e. how to get the information
to all those in the community who need to be able to use it as part of their
collaborative activities. But one-to-many communicatiom for mobiles requires
a fairly significant degree of financial and planning overhead -- certainly
something beyond the interest of most commercial mobile operators. In this
context the conventional(even technologically prescribed) mobile
communications mode i.e. one to one (or many to one) is non-functional or
even potentially destructive.  

So the message that I came away with and that I would contribute to this
discussion is less that technology is (or is not) ideologically neutral
(that depends I guess on how you define "ideology"). But rather that at
least in some particular contexts, for some particular purposes, technology
is deeply value laden concerning the nature of one's being in the world
(e.g. individualistic or communal as one example) and that the forces of
technology design combined with the forces of commerce, ideology and inertia
(and in the absence of popular resistance and/or public policy) can be
deeply (and ultimately irresponsibly) reconstitutive of the nature of our
lived world and how we experience and act in this. (But I guess we, who have
read our Harold Innis, and here we should include Marshall McLuhan, would
already know that). 

And finally to observe that it seems to me that this form of technology
imposed socio-cultural rerendering is perhaps the deepest "ideological" cut
of all.

Best to all,

Michael Gurstein, Ph.D.
Executive Director: Centre for Community Informatics Research, Development
and Training (CCIRDT) Vancouver, BC CANADA

tel/fax: +1-604-602-0624
email: gurstein at gmail.com
web: http://communityinformatics.net
blog: http://gurstein.wordpress.com
twitter: #michaelgurstein

-----Original Message-----
From: air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org
[mailto:air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org] On Behalf Of Andrew Herman
Sent: Sunday, July 08, 2012 10:24 AM
To: air-l at listserv.aoir.org; jhuns at vt.edu
Subject: Re: [Air-L] Technology as ideologically neutral?

This is indeed a fascinating discussion and I like the way that Jeremy has
turned the question here.

J: can you explain a bit more what you mean when you hold that objects
themselves have politics in themselves but necessarily ideologies in

Charles: at the end of the day, would you please post all the readings that
people have suggested?

And let us not forget Slack and Wise, Culture and Technology: A Primer.

Andrew Herman, Ph. D.
Associate Professor
Department of Communication Studies
Director, Graduate Program in Cultural Analysis and Social Theory Wilfrid
Laurier University Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3C5 CANADA 519 884-1970 x3693
>>> jeremy hunsinger <jhuns at vt.edu> 07/07/12 3:28 AM >>>
I find this to be an interesting debate, though mostly the question is
where the ideology actually exists.    Does it exist in the object
itself?  relations to the object from other objects?  relations to the
object to semiotic systems around it?  relations to socius or culture? or in
the systems alone, cultures alone, socius, alone, etc.

basically there is a matrix here of ideologies, contexts, objects and their
axiologies operating both ontologically ala mereological
constructions  and epistemologies.   With many blurry middle grounds.

I hold that artifacts have politics in themselves, but i'm not sure that all
artefacts have ideologies in themselves.  The question i tend to raise and
ask people to write about is... what is the politics of the toaster, because
the toaster has a whole political economics and a politics, but does it have
an implied ideology.  Now the design of a toaster can certainly have
ideological components, but the idea of a toaster may perhaps not, though
granted whether the idea exists outside of the set of objects is another
debate for the Platonists to take up.

however... I wonder about the neutrality of the internet because as I've
argued here before, that while there is no real internet beyond reference to
a conceptual idea that encompasses many technologies and systems that lack
what i'd all think of as a unity beyond the concept. So does it as a whole
have a neutrality or an ideology?  there is a certain technocratic
rationality to it, and that rationality certainly has a traditionally
critiqued ideology, but is that in it, or in the design of it, or in the
relations of it within historic contexts?  and isn't neutrality and the
claim to it, an ideological claim?  I've always tended to argue that the
claim toward neutrality and objectivity is almost always ideological.

one of my favorite authors on this technology as ideology is Paul Virilio
and my second favorite is Walter Benjamin in Arcades Project.

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