Information Ecologies

  Using Technology with Heart


by Bonnie A.Nardi and Vicki L. O’Day, The MIT Press, 1999

Contents

 

Preface

Acknowledgments

Information Ecologies: Concepts and Reflections

1 Rotwang the Inventor

2 Framing Conversations about Technology

3 A Matter of Metaphor: Technology as Tool, Text, System, Ecology

4 Information Ecologies

5 Values and Technology

6 How to Evolve Information Ecologies

Ⅱ Case Studies

7 Librarians: A Keystone Species

8 WolfBatgirland Starlight: Finding a Real Community in a Virtua1 World

9 Cultivating Gardeners: The Importance of Homegrown Expertise

10  Digita1 Photography at < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">Lincoln High Schoo1

11 A Dysfunctiona1 Ecology: Privacy Issues at a Teaching Hospital

12 Diversity on the Internet

13 Conclusion

Notes

Index

 

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Preface

 

One of the most important human stories of the twentieth century is the

impact of technology on the way we live die work and play. This wi11

continue into the twenty-first century. Usually discussions of technology

are either blissfully pro or darkly con. Most of the time People do not

discuss technology at a11. They simply let it wash over them adapting as

best they can. This book is an attempt to engender a public conversation

that will be more balanced and nuanced to develop a critical stance that

is less passive and unreflectively accepting.

 

There are reasons to be concerned about the impacts of technology ---

the rapid pace of technological change challenges our ability to keep up

human skill and judgment at work are lost to automation and standards

of mechanical efficiency are used as benchmarks for human performance.

 

We see ourselves as critical friends of technology. We believe we can

find ways to enjoy the fruits of technology without being diminished by

it. It is possible to use technology with pleasure and grace if we make

thoughtful decisions in the context of our local habitations, to borrow

Shakespeare’s phrase. By this we mean settings in which we as individuals

have an active role a unique and valuable local perspective and a say

in what happens. For most of us this means our workplaces schools

homeslibrarieshospitalscommunity centers churchesclubsand civic

organizations. For some of us, it means a wider sphere of influence. All

of us have local habitations in which we can reflect on appropriate uses

of technology in light of our local practices goalsand values.

 

We call these local habitations information ecologies,since they have

much in common with biological ecologies as we will discuss. Because

the goal of this book is to change the way people look at technology in

their own settingswe adopted a metaphor that emphasizes local connections

and offers scope for diverse reflections and analyses. We believe

that we have leverage to affect technological change by acting in spheres

where we have knowledge and authority --- our own information ecologies.

A key to thoughtful action is to ask many more know-why

questions than we typically do. Being efficientproductiveproactive

people we often jump to the know-how questions which are considerably

easier to answer. In this book we talk about practical ways to have

more know-why conversationsto dig deeper and reflect more about

the effects of the ways we use technology.

 

The phrase local habitations helps us understand settings of technology

use in a new and useful way. Fritz Lang’s beautiful film Metropolis

is another source of insight for us. Metropolis is engages some of our

collective fears about our society’s dependence on technological invention.

The film presents a view of technology as a seductive untamable

force that undermines our humanity. In 1926 Lang sensed the way

technology would keep apart heart and mind the way people would

heedlessly focus on technical development for its own sake while evading

the social questions of what purpose technology serves in human life.

 

Rotwang the unforgettable mad scientist in Metropolis created the

ultimate robot a creature possessed of full human intelligence. Lang

recognized the deep love that goes into technical creation --- the robot was

created in the image of Rotwang’s beloved dead mistress. Rotwang

refused to consider how such a robot might be used for evi1 and indeed

heartless forces of capitalism harness the powers of Maria the robot. It

is important that we understand the message Lang was sending us: we

love our technologies and we are endlessly technically creative but our

creations can betray us. Rotwang was too entranced with his invention

to consider the possible human consequences. J. Robert Oppenheimer

in a similar vein said of the development of the hydrogen bomb that the

mere fact of the possibility of creating the bomb was technically so sweet

that you could not argue about that.1

 

We believe that we can and should argue about how technology is

created and used. Lang suggested in Metropolis that technical sweetness

is not enough. Technology development and use must be mediated by the

human heart.

 

In this book we discuss what it could mean to use technology with

heart. We give examples from our research studies to show how people

can use technology fruitfully by engaging their own values and commitments.

We examine the groundbreaking analyses of scholars such as

Jacques Ellul and Langdon Winnerwho have deepened our understanding

through their provocative looks at the social implications of

technology. We hope that these examples and ideas will help you see new

avenues of participation and engagement with technology in your own

local settings.