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Jamais Cascio on Gadgets and the Future 43

Armchair Anarchist writes "Futurismic has just posted the first column from its new monthly contributor, the renowned Jamais Cascio. Cascio is best known as a co-founder of Worldchanging.com, but is also a prolific blogger (at his own site 'Open The Future'), writer, public speaker and pundit on many aspects of futurism and foresight. This new piece sees him discussing the way futurist thinkers tend to focus on gadgets and technology, and advocating the use of more critical approaches."
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Jamais Cascio on Gadgets and the Future

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  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Monday August 07, 2006 @06:48AM (#15858040) Homepage
    From the article: There's an evident problem, however, with technology being effectively the sole focus; many (arguably most) of the significant drivers of change in the world today have more to do with religion, or economics, or the environment than with technological toys. Looking only (or primarily) at new gadgets misses out on the big picture. The deeper problem is more subtle and, in my view, more important. A preponderance of focus on emerging technologies leads one to start thinking of technology as a neutral driver of change, rather than as a material manifestation of social values. More often than not, the emergence of new forms of technology is less a catalyst for social change than a result of it. As a result, technology is not neutral. It embodies -- and is biased by -- the underlying values of the cultures in which it is developed.

    Sounds like he's just discovered what Langdon Winner [langdonwinner.org] has been saying since the 1970s, and others since before then. Slashdot frequently sees posts like "a razor blade can be used for good or evil" implying technology is value neutral -- but it isn't. Technology embodies our values, especially when looked at as a system including favorite economic stories at the time -- including a decision to invest in, say, designing nuclear weapons design or marketing larger SUVs instead of say, curing river blindness or designing electric cars -- decisions driven by values.

    Contrast, say, Disney's investments in controlling media with DRM versus the RepRap [reprap.org] project to make a free 3D printer. Winner goes further in his book _Autonomous Technology_ and suggests large bureaucracies "reverse adapt", changing their environment to perpetuate themselves, including the legal environment. So, if you can't make or share your own media or 3D models, then you are dependent on Disney or whoever. Consider the kind of technology to sustain the values described here: CLAWS: Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery [whywork.org] and how it might differ from the politics and policies and technologies and infrastructure of today. Or from this essay The Abolition of Work [whywork.org]: "Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working. ... Only a small and diminishing fraction of work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Twenty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then being done -- presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now -- would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control."

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe