My Philosophy on Technology or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Bob-omb

For one of our very first assignments in our Creativity & Computation Lecture, we were challenged to write a short paper exploring our own philosophy on technology.

It is interesting going back and re-reading this after my experience first-year at MFA D+T, but I do still feel like many of the ideas I identified in this paper hold true.

Three things I pulled out specifically are areas of interest I identified as I was just beginning my explorations into this program. While these areas have shifted somewhat throughout my learning process and as I was exposed to new ideas, both through reading and through experimentation, I always think it is important to go back to ones roots. Ignoring or brushing aside the reasons I came to this program, reasons founded in gaps in my own career and frustrations I had working in the non-profit and public sectors, supposedly creating sustainable change, is irresponsible and frankly silly, considering that these were areas I hoped this degree would prepare me to better address.

I am re-posting this paper here as both a reminder to myself about values I have held dearly throughout my life and education, and as an exercise in seeing if and how these values and ideas have transformed as I have had the opportunity to peel back the glitzy consumer veneer on the systems that run our world, and understand how they work, for whom they work, and maybe one day, what the hell they are working towards…

Summary of Main Interest Areas I Hoped to Explore in DT (circa October 2015)

  • Given our increasing symbiosis with technology and systems, I want to explore how the location-based technologies and the internet of things will interrupt established information systems through creating quicker and more accurate feedback loops between ourselves, our cities, and even our natural environment.
  • After recently reading Asimov’s Foundation trilogy while starting to learn to manipulate public data, I am curious about studying how we can collect, analyze and visualize information about our urban world to gain insight, and how we can leverage these realizations to push for policies that lead to a more collaborative, equitable, open, and accountable way of governing.
  • I believe that video games and science fiction can be used as methods in which we can test out the extension of our ideas about the future. I want to use visual and interactive storytelling, gaming, and new and evolving media to bring people together and build an ecosystem that is fertile for collaborative social innovation and creativity.

Full Paper

Again, this paper originally used footnotes which have been removed from the blog version for clarity. Please see the PDF version by clicking on the link in the title of this paper to see the correctly cited version.

I’ve included works cited at the end of this post. 

Philosophy of Technology: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bob-omb

Dana Martens
MFA D+T Fall 2015

Technology may be defined by how we use it, but more importantly it in turn defines us and how we see our world. To begin to understand how technology has impacted us, it is useful to first explore its roots – in this case, Greek. Technology is a compound of Techne meaning “art, skill, cunning of hand” and logia (plural of logion) previously used to reference communications of divine origin, a.k.a words from God(s). (Wikipedia, Techne & Logia) This etymological mash-up has great personal meaning and implications. Looking at its origin, it is easy to understand how technology has helped to evolve my art, skill, and cunning of hand (creation, ability, creativity) as it also evolved throughout my life. However, it simultaneously changed how I think, opening new horizons and frameworks of understanding that often felt derived from a divine or unknown, intangible origin. As I have grown and evolved, technology has as well, intertwining itself throughout my hands, my mind, and probably even my heart. In many ways I’ve grown into a willing cyborg with a penchant for playing out the endgames so many science fiction novels have predicted. Or maybe I’m just trying to prevent them. Either way, the best current summation of my philosophy regarding technology is: 

“Technology is an interface through which we bring our thoughts, ideas, and dreams to life in increasingly tangible ways. However, interfaces act both ways, and technology in turn and increasingly informs our thoughts ideas and desires to begin with. In other words, we both use each other.”

My first paradigm of technology was that of a window. I started using digital and electronic technologies (versus things like houses, writing, mechanics) when I was a preteen. At the time, our brand new computer felt like a window into another world and it was easy to visualize my mouse and keyboard as a set of digital hands that could manipulate things in ways I couldn’t do in real life. The same thing went for my Super Nintendo and Sega. However I could always leave the technology behind, to stop looking through the window and return to a solid foundation in reality. Actually – and unwillingly – I  had to, since I couldn’t lug a monitor and tower outside to play with. Hence my first understanding of digital technology was that it was a static window allowing me to actively participate in and shape new worlds, especially as I got online in the late 90’s and the internet became more and more connected. This technology/world paradigm didn’t shift again until I was 22 and my best friend bought one of the first iPhones. The revelation was instantaneous and dramatic. While driving home with friends, I asked some ridiculous question about history, as I had done a million times before. Usually this could easily be looked up online when we got home. However on this day, my best friend pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked up the answer on the spot. I remember looking at her in realization and shock, quietly muttering, “You know, this changes everything right?”

And it has. Technology has been shaping how we live since the beginning of time  – wheels let us roll things and electricity changed how we live so completely that it probably allowed New York its designation “the city that never sleeps”. However digital and mobile technology have accelerated this transformation exponentially over the last fifty years. Why? Because now our technologies are a part of us, and we are  a part of our technologies. We are always on, we are always connected. Even those of us that don’t use technology are sucked into it when we pass under a security camera, get caught in the background of someone’s selfie, or have our name referenced online in a tweet. It is naive to think we can escape it. Can you escape your own hand, your own feet? Not without a lot of pain and severely limiting your agency.

This two-way cyborg-like connection has been the foundation of my ever-changing understanding of technology. One feeling that has remained constant throughout each evolution is that more and more, our online persona, our handle, has become a digital and intangible – yet somehow real – extension of ourselves. Our manifestation in the digital world reflects how we want to be, how we want to look, how we want to act – whether for the good or for the bad. (Note: See my article on virtual Identity, gaming, sexuality, and gender – One of the Boys: How MMORPGs Shaped My Young Queer Life. http://bit.ly/1j4970O )

This is only becoming more and more tangible as wearables, geolocation, and the internet of things tether our physical selves more firmly to our digital understanding of ourselves. Similarly, the intangible collection of human-consciousness, desires, and behaviors have started to take a tangible shape in the metadata that we leave behind in our collective digital footprint. Our “psychohistory” (to borrow an idea from Asimov) is now a real thing and we are just starting to realize the tools to explore it. Yet just as technology connects us to something bigger and outside of ourselves,  allowing us to imprint our consciousness upon its universe, it simultaneously and fundamentally changes us, how we seek information, how we connect to each together, how we answer questions, and even how we begin to think and describe our own real reality.

Many of these ideas led me to study Design + Technology at Parsons. I desired not just to witness my understanding of technology evolve as I read about and used it more and more, but to actually be part of the evolution myself. Even in the short time I have been learning new tools to communicate with the digital world, I find my point of view continuing to transform. One big change is that I have began to understand assigned readings and their philosophical and sociological themes through the programming languages I’m simultaneously learning. Last week when trying to grasp Clive Dilnot’s example explaining the character of artifacts, I found myself thinking about learning Processing in Bootcamp.

“No ideal chair exists. In artifice there are only chairs.
This reflects the general truth that the artificial does not know law but only instances and possibility.
What matters in the artificial is the configuration things take.”

Reading this line, my mind immediately jumped to the idea of classes and objects. The class “chair” configures the instances of chair objects that exist – of course! Later, when decoding Donella Meadow’s explanation of world systems and their leverage points, I found myself vainly trying to scribble a function (see the end of this paper) to explain how the world works, and how it might go moving forward – given the uncertain variables of humans, fate, environment etc.

These new frameworks have been extremely insightful and helped me realize things I am curious about exploring in my time at DT, especially given my parallel passion for and work in urban infrastructure, networks, policy and planning. Given our increasing symbiosis with technology and systems, I want to explore how the location-based technologies and the internet of things will interrupt established information systems through creating quicker and more accurate feedback loops between ourselves, our cities, and even our natural environment. After recently reading Asimov’s Foundation trilogy while starting to learn to manipulate public data, I am curious about studying how we can collect, analyze and visualize information about our urban world to gain insight, and how we can leverage these realizations to push for policies that lead to a more collaborative, equitable, open, and accountable way of governing. Finally, given my abiding love of video games and science fiction as methods in which we can test out the extension of our ideas about the future, I want to use visual and interactive storytelling, gaming, and new and evolving media to bring people together and build an ecosystem that is fertile for collaborative social innovation and creativity.

I’m still unsure of the path my future career will take after finishing my journey at Parsons, just as I don’t yet know how I will see the world differently in two years – or technology for that matter. But I do know that my best skill and half-realized calling is to help people and connect them together to create amazing things. I look forward to the next two years and designing projects that showcase my understanding of how our ever-changing relationship with technology, our city, and our world defines how we create the future, but more importantly, how we imagine it. In the end, I guess it’s less about what my philosophy is of technology, and more and more, what technology’s philosophy is of me.

My Attempt at a World Function
(not anywhere near correct, but this will improve with time!!!)

var humans = 6 Billion;

var fate = random(1,infinity);

var givingaShit = true; //does it though?

var impact = 50;

var environment = (humans+impact)*fate;

var world = function(humans, impact, fate) {

 

for (time = 2015, time < 3000, time++) {

if (givingaShit) {

humans–;

impact–;

} else if (givingaShit == false) {

impact++

}

}

}

Works Cited

  1. Bob-Omb Buddy PMTMF. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://bit.ly/1KR1h3w
  2. Techne. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techne
  3. Logia. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logia
  4. See my article on virtual Identity, gaming, sexuality, and gender: Martens, D. (2014, December 3). One of the Boys: How MMORPGs Shaped My Young Queer Life. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://bit.ly/1j4970O
  5. Dilnot, C. (2014). Reasons to be Cheerful, 1, 2, 3…* (Or Why the Artificial May Yet Save Us” In Design as future-making. Bloomsbury Academic.
  6. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. (1999). Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://bit.ly/1gBeJvk

 

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