Monday, June 4, 2007

King's Analysis of "Stories Technologies"

The depiction of the four types of "stories technologies" that King examines in "Women in the Web" was one of the most interesting aspects of the articles that I read this week. Some of the articles, such as Terranova's ongoing discussion of the way in which the digital economy has in ways replicated the historical development of the "real" (which I employ for lack of a better word for non-digital) economy, while interesting at parts, hardly held extraordinary interest for myself as one who is hardly keen on the study of economics. King's article is particularly interesting, however, because it provides a way for me to analyze and categorize not only my impressions, but impressions that I've heard from outside sources, of the way technology is viewed. These "stories technologies," an idea initially introduced by academics such as Ohmann, were particularly intriguing even if potentially confusing as a result of their apparent similarities.

The first of these is the story of technological determinism, which is one that I certainly can recognize hearing quite frequently, particularly regarding the way technology influences society. This story discusses technology that appears to have been invented on accident, but that has consequences for society that seem to be inevitable across the spectrum. The example that Ohmann gives is the way in which, "The TV caused middle-class families of the 50s to retreat from community life and intensify their nuclear focus, huddling together around the warm glow of the living room TV set." The downfall of such a view is that "they suggest that these consequences are inevitable, that the technologies were invented without specific intentions, and that the technologies are singular, in themselves social forces" (King 306).

The next of the "stories technologies" is what is described as symptomatic technology. In this description, one discusses the way in which symptoms emerge from the invention of an important technology. The example provided by King is that "we might say, 'Our children have become ravenous consumers of junk watching TV commercial after TV commercial.'" In doing this, we neglect the technological invention in itself in order to focus on "other great social forces which exploit such invention" (307).

The third narrative is known as neutral technology and is particularly interesting in that it looks at the way in which certain technologies do both positives and negatives for society, whether socially, political, or economically. King cites the example of the Digital Divide and the claim that, "Computers are not the problem, it is everyone not having access to them that is the concern." While this view of technology appears to be an unbiased appraisal of the pro's and con's of certain technological developments, it is important to recognize that this assessment fails to "recognize,technologies as create and deployed within, indeed embodying, relations of power." It is here that King discusses a very important way to identify this "neutral technology" by looking for three particular signs that indicate such a view. "The first is using phrases like 'the computer' 'as if it were a stable device.' The second is deploying such a phrase as a grammatical agent (for example, making it the subject of a sentence), and the third is using phrases like 'man,' 'the mind,' and 'the human condition'" (307). Ohmann demands that one recognize the crucial point "that technologies interact with people or with 'culture' in global, undifferentiated ways, rather than serving as an arena of interaction among classes, races, and other groups of unequal power" (qtd in King 307). This "neutral technology," which seemingly looks like the most potentially unbiased view of technology, is shown to neglect the relationship that technology has with its users, and the varied types of users that themselves have different relationships with such technology.

This idea leads finally to the fourth type, which King considers the most neutral and what Haraway termed as technologies as frozen social relations. This mode of viewing technology is the most complex, stemming from the fact that it examines the transitions in relationships between technology and its varied users, particularly relationships that were previously nearly incapable of comprehension until their recent evolution. The danger here is once again to revert to the three signs in technological discussion that Ohmann warned against in the explanation of the "neutral technologies." One must be exceptionally careful in examining the emergence and role of a technology in relation to all its users and forms. The result is a very intensive discourse for the relationship of any sort of technology to society, a condensed version of which King provides in the following page regarding merely the understanding of the term "VCR." The intense scrutiny that one must undertake seems nearly painful, but unfortunately the field of studying technological emergence in society demands such specified investigation to avoid generalized and inaccurate claims.

While this entire explanation seemed to offer little impact on the remainder of the article, and seemed to only be explained for informative and not argumentative purposes, I found it to be by far the most interesting examination of the field of technology. As King later discusses, in her classes there is so much more than learning how to use technology to do things such as build websites, which is what most presume a tech class will entail. To examine the way in which technology interacts with all aspects of our society, which is what we have done primarily in this class, in addition to the integration of technology to display our research, is of just as great importance.

I apologize for the length of this post, but I thought it of great importance in a class on "Internet Culture in the Information Society" that we pay specific attention to the way in which technology's relationship with our society is viewed, examined, and explained. King does a great job explaining these four modes, and as a result it seemed important to highlight it for the purpose of this class.

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