Technorealism October 19, 2004
Back in the day (1998) a bunch of concerned people came together to write a sort of manifesto on technology (mainly regarding the Internet). Due to the nature of things, it’s still hanging around on the web, though it looks like no activity has gone on at the site for a couple of years now. The idea, however, is as timely as it ever was.
It’s called Technorealism, and it’s essentially a bunch of principles regarding the way the authors think technology should be handled. Like most statements of principle over one paragraph in length, I’m not sure I agree with it 100%, but many of the concerns I hold are echoed here. In particular I would point out the authors’ call for holding technological advance to democratic scrutiny - a sort of litmus test for whether a thing should be done just because it can. Also, it is interesting that the authors already were concerned about the growing concentration of media ownership which has drastically and dangerously increased since the manifesto was written. More about these things some other time.
Here, I’d like to point out one example that demonstrates why the golden hammer metaphor appeals to me. One of the technorealists’ points is in regard to computers in schools not being the answer to challenges facing education, particularly in the United States and Canada. Indeed, “the wired classroom” was (and perhaps still is) seen as as essential aspect of a good education, even in elementary school. One of the rationales I have heard for this is that introducing young children to the tools of the work world will better prepare them for adult jobs.
Maybe it’s been too long since I was in school, but I thought school was about getting an education not a job. Not to mention that every hour a child spends on using a computer in class is an hour of instructional time with a teacher lost. Kids need good teachers, a decent library, and parents that give a damn. Lets face it, kids aren’t much different from adults. For most of us, for most of the time, a computer is just an expensive toy. Computers in schools seems like a cool idea - and that’s the problem. Too many decisions regarding technology are being made based on what feels cool, rather than when seems right.