Visual thinking

This concept refers to the capacity or ability to combine images, representations, models or structures in different ways in order to achieve a solution in a technological system. An historical well known figure who exemplifies in a memorable way the possibilities of the visual thinking is the artist and engineer Leonardo da Vinci. His drawings and comments reflect the peculiarities of the results he produced by analogical procedures. An example of this cognitive process can be found when Leonardo compares muscles with levers, or the flight of a bird in particular moments with the turn of a screw. Consequently some contributions were made by him and others in the Renaissance to the creation of a visual language, which has a remarkable influence in the following years. The different techniques intended to the mechanization of drawing produced since the 16th Century prove the interest in establishing rules and routines in this sort of knowledge.

perspectographPerspectograph, Ludovico Cigoli, c.1610 (drawingmachines.org)

The meaning of visual thinking in history and in the transmission of knowledge was compared with other similar mental skills and experiences not codified. Karl Polanyi attributed to these cognitive dimensions a central role in his book Personal Knowledge (1958). Later on he published the book Tacit Dimension (1966); so concepts such as “tacit knowledge” and “know-how” acquired a particular significance in the epistemological approaches to human activities and practices. The relevance of this type of experiences in the domain of technology was noted by Eugene S. Ferguson in the 1970s. Particular interest had his seminal paper untitled “The Mind’s Eye: Nonverbal Thought in Technology” (Science, 197, 1977) which covered the main historical, cultural and psychological issues involved in the process of thinking with pictures. There he examined topics such as the role that nonverbal thought had played in technologists practices since the Renaissance; the traditions of illustrated books; the emergence of new trends in education that paid special attention to artisan work and trades; the techniques aimed at the reproduction of images, and last but not least, the use of objects in teaching. A great part of these activities are not the result of the simple application of analytical geometry mental tools.

In a later publication, Engineering and the Mind’s Eye (1992), Ferguson extended the issues above mentioned to other observations and evidences. There is for instance a reference worth mentioning to visual patterns that defines the “personal style” of inventors. In the case of Thomas A. Edison -the example attended in the book- it was identified a “visual thread” that connects his different creations. As Ferguson puts it, taking into consideration Reese Jenkins historical studies, “Edison used again and again an array of mechanical combinations that he adapted to such diverse machines as the phonograph, the printing telegraph, the mechanical teleautograph […] the kinetoscope […] One combination of elements of style that appeared in Edison’s designs was a rotating drum or cylinder” (26-28).

Along the course of history there have been numerous efforts made to transmit visual knowledge (drawing techniques, perspective machines, cameras obscura, projection devices, printing processes…) and to systematize the principles of mechanisms (see the “mechanical alphabet” by Christopher Polhem or the Essai sur la composition des Machines by José María de Lanz and Agustín de Betancourt, 1808). Nevertheless, as Dennis R. Herschbach states, this type of knowledge “cannot be easily expressed formally. Descriptions, diagrams, and pictures help to explain tacit knowledge, but it largely results from individual practice and experience” (Herschbach, 1995, 35-36). And this is common not only in mechanical arts but in the so-called high-tech industries, electronics and telecommunications.

References and further reading

Rudolf Arnheim, Visual Thinking, University of California Press, 1969; Dennis R. Herschbach (1995), “Technology as knowledge: implications for instruction”, Journal of Technology Education, 7, 1, 31-42; Eugene S. Ferguson (1977). “The Mind’s Eye: Nonverbal Thought in Technology”, Science, 197, 827-836; Eugene S. Ferguson (1992). Engineering and the Mind’s Eye. Massachusetts, The MIT Press; Klaus Hentschel (2014). Visual Cultures in Science and Technology: A Comparative Study, Oxford University Press; Anthonie Meijers, ed. (2009). Philosophy of Technology and Engineering Sciences, Amsterdam, Elsevier, vol. 9

Culture of technology in secondary education

telegraph-ganot

Image of the physics textbook by A. Ganot, Cours de Physique purement expérimentale à l’usage des gens du monde… (Paris, 1859, p. 510).

Is a telegraph a scientific instrument? If the answer is no, why then was it included in most physics textbooks in the second half of the 19th century, supposedly to teach physics?
Education is not an isolated element of society. On the contrary, it reflects shared cultural views and has an influence on them. In this process, technological values are no exception: The way they are present or perceived in education depends on the role society -and more specifically legislators and its associated governments- attributes to technology.
Although each country had its peculiarities, during almost all the second half of the 19th century, in most European countries secondary education was mainly focused on the middle class and mainly intended to provide general culture and as a preparation for the university.
As the century went on, several general changes were introduced under the influence of different factors related mainly to technological changes (such as the Industrial Revolution or the factory system -see the post on this blog) and to both social and economic transformations. As stated some years ago by Carlo M. Cipolla in his work Literacy and Development in the West, where he raised issues that still remain open (p. 103):

The Industrial Revolution created a break with the past. In an industrial society people have to operate on a totally new and different plane, and the educational sector obviously does not escape the common fate. Advanced technology and the pace at which it makes further advances create new and unique problems of training and education. It is true that more and more machines simplify man’s work. But as our mastery over our environment increases, more knowledge becomes the prerequisite to our action. Some common sense and the skills of reading and writing were great assets until not long ago; and they were more than enough to place a man high upon the social ladder.

Although many are the circumstances conditioning these changes, we will only make reference to some of them (leaving aside, among others, influences coming from Thinkers of the French Enlightenment such as Rousseau).
In the first place, education goals and target groups started to widen. During the second half of the 19th century, it grew strong the belief in the power of education to shape the future of nations and individuals. Legislators in some European countries, such as Spain, also attributed to it the duties of educating for life and enabling students to enter into medium level professions. This last goal gave secondary education an important role because of its middle possition between superior education and the labour market and because it reached those students who didn’t attend either university or technical schools. Later on, some attempts were made to include vocational training in secondary schools and to combine both studies, although, at least in Spain, these initiatives were not very succesful (González y Guijarro, 78).
In the second place, the rise of industrialism and capitalism, together with other circumstances such as the efficiency and high degree of development reached by science and technology, or the showcasing of these advances in exhibits like London’s Great Exposition in 1851, contributed to give these fields a greater prestige. Education was expected to take account of these new challenges and, as a consequence of these and other factors, some proposals for change were introduced in education organization and curricula. Concerning the first changes, the “factory model of education” was adopted (http://hackeducation.com/2015/04/25/factory-model), a model that continues to be in use to this day (see the post “factory system” on this blog). Concerning the second ones, the curricula also started to change very slowly, resulting in the introduction of newer kinds of knowledge outside the traditional humanities. As the German Emperor WillIam II put it “It is our duty to educate young men to become young Germans and not young Greeks or Romans” (https://global.britannica.com/topic/education/Western-education-in-the-19th-century).
Then, and although conditioned by the interests of the government in power, secondary education started to pursue the introduction of both scientific and technological contents, but in very different ways. Science, unlike technology, was explicitly included in the secondary schools: that’s the case regarding physics. Technology, on the contrary, was apparently outside the sphere of this level of education because hardly any subject related to industry, such as industrial arts (the term used at the time to refer to techniques) or agriculture was included; and, if they were, they didn’t last long. However, a closer look reveals the abundant presence both of technological contents in physics textbooks and programs, and of technological items in physics cabinets. Why then if technology was considered convenient content was it introduced under the cover of the concept of science?
At the time, two main views of science co-existed: on the one hand scientific scholarship pursued science for its own sake and tried to safeguard this perspective from the pressure of being useful, giving rise to the idea of pure science. On the other side, politicians both defended and helped to consolidate an utilitarian view influenced by the belief of the contribution of science and technology to progress and wellbeing, and thus, in order to contribute to the country development, pursued the inclusion of this type of contents in this educational level (see the post “Progress” on this blog).
This belief, consolidated in the 19th century, continues to exist, although several current studies question the idea of the direct contribution of education to economy and progress. Good examples are the following words by G. S. Drori and Fritz Ringer:

Whereas science and education are commonly regarded as intrinsically being linked with social benefits and, thus, by definition carrying a teleological tone, I argue that such definition evolved in the cultural environment of nineteenth century Europe.
Science and education are regarded as being beneficial to society and the definition of their social role rests on this justification. In other words, the social understanding of science and education is essentially teleological, and modern science and education are regarded as being linked to, and defined by, their utility. […]

The definition of the social role, or the designated value of this social role, is exemplified in the “science education for development” model. This model is, however, a general and widespread article of collective faith, rather than an observable reality. In other words, the science education component in national development is a myth, rather than a proven agent for national progress. (“A Critical Appraisal of Science Education for Economic Development”, en W. W. Cobern (ed),Socio-Cultural Perspectives on Science Education: An International Dialogue, Springer-Science + Bussines Media, 1990, pp. 49-74, pp. 68-69)

… the economic funcionalist approach to educational change is seriously flawed in several respects. To begin with, no one has ever succeeded in specifying the functionalist case by demonstrating the usefulness of particular curricula for particular technical or business positions. […] To raise such issues is just to indicate that the economic functionalist account of educational change (and the educationalist account of economic growth) must be questioned in detail, even though it seems initially plausible when stated at a very high level of generality. (Fritz Ringer, D. K. Müller, and B. Simon (eds.), The rise of the modern educational system, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, and Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris, 1989, p. 2)

In any case, as we have said, it was this economicistic and utilitarian rethoric (prevailing today in certain sectors) the one that conditioned the introduction of scientific and technological knowledge in secondary schools. Hence the emphasis was placed in applied science. Science then, being more attractive, was the general term used to refer to both topics bluring the distinction between them.
This ideal of a scientific knowledge that comprises technology, shown explicitly in decrees and educational laws, can be illustrated analysing the terms used (even in the title) in a largely used physics textbook, Elementary Treatise on Physics Experimental and Applied, by A. Ganot, that was translated into several languages in more than half a century. While the terms “science” and “arts” appear in it about fifteen times, the term “applications” appears twenty five times –forty nine in the 1859 french version–.
As a consequence of this view, technological contents were introduced in both physics textbooks and programs, and technological objects were purchased for the physics cabinets, but all of them classified always as scientific, and considered as the result of scientific work (to see other equipment used in education see the post “Educational technology” on this blog).

References and further reading
Carlo M. Cipolla (1969), Literacy and Development in the West, Penguin; W. W. Cobern (ed) (1990), Socio-Cultural Perspectives on Science Education: An International Dialogue, Springer-Science + Bussines Media, pp. 49-74; Víctor Guijarro and Leonor González (2015), La comprensión cultural de la tecnología, Madrid, Universitas;  Fritz Ringer, D. K. Müller and B. Simon (eds.) (1989), The rise of the modern educational system, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, and Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris;  Federico Sanz Díaz (1985), La segunda enseñanza oficial en el siglo XIX (1834-1874), Madrid;  Ulrich Wengenroth (2000), “Science, Technology, and Industry in the 19th Century”, Munich Center for The History of Science and Technology, Working Paper.

Knowledge society

OLE Nepal cover

Idyllic mage from OLE Nepal (One Laptop Per Child), an ambitious but somewhat controversial project. Nepal, 2009.Courtesy of Flickr: OLE Nepal cover

In 1896 there were 50,000 scientific researchers in the world; in 2011 there were around 1000 researchers per million inhabitants (http://chartsbin.com/view/1124). According to Derek de Solla Price, these changes are associated to a concept, that of “big science”, which encompasses the increasingly complex frameworks were science and technology practices take place in the second half of the 20th and the first decades of the 21st century. In this period a culture of innovation has become omnipresent, affecting the way technology is understood. All these transformations are associated to a complex phenomenon implying changes in both the values and the central role of science and technology in society, as well as in the relationship between them. The meaning of the so-called “Knowledge society” derives directly from these changes.

So what does this term refers to? Previous societies have not been knowledge societies? Weren’t they based on knowledge? According to Manuel Castells (Castells, 2003, 7) the term “knowledge society”, in some cases “Information society”, refers to a society where the conditions both to produce knowledge and manage information have been substantially altered due to a technological revolution focused on the processing of information, the generation of knowledge and on information technologies. This does not suggest a technological determinism –yet technology develops hand in hand with social elements, receiving influences from market demands, state policies and a world view–, but a real paradigm shift has occurred where all social, political, cultural and economic processes are affected. This revolution is characterized not by the central role of knowledge or information, but rather by its application to apparatus for generating and processing knowledge; new information technologies are then not only tools that can be applied, but also processes to be developed. Good examples of this are the two interacting technological expressions this paradigm has: internet and genetic engineering. On the one hand, internet is not only, or chiefly, a technology, but a cultural production. On the other hand, apart from the fact that the discovery of DNA has driven to consider information as the organizing principle in itself, we are having the possibility of processing and manipulating not only information, but also life. The revolution in the processing of information affects then both electronic and genetic information.

Some of the first approaches to the concept of Knowledge Society were suggested by Peter Drucker, Marc Porat, and Daniel Bell. Drucker “forecasted” the emergency of knowledge workers (Druker, 1959), and the tendency towards a knowledge society (Druker, 1969) where knowledge substitute work, row materials and capital as the main source of productivity, growth and social inequalities. Porat published in 1977 the first version of “Global implications of the Information Society”, which fully expressed the idea of ‘information economy’ and ‘information society’. Bell described in 1973 (Bell, 1999) a society based in service production, the “post-industrial society”, whose central feature was “the codification of theoretical knowledge and the new relation of science to technology”. According to him,

 Every society has existed on the basis of knowledge and the role of language in the transmission of knowledge. But only in the twentieth century have we seen the codification of theoretical knowledge and the development of self-conscious research programs in the unfolding of new knowledge. One sees this change in the new relation of science to technology. Almost all the industries of the nineteenth century –steel, electricity, telephone, automobile, aviation, the wireless– were created by talented thinkers (a Bessemer, a Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers, Marconi) who were indifferent to or worked independently of the developments in science. But the major developments of the twentieth century –in telecommunications, computers, semi-conductors and transistors, materials science, optics, biotechnology– derive from the revolutions in twentieth century physics and biology […]. Research and development are the handmaidens of invention and innovation, and these are integral to the developments in science” (Bell, 1999, xiv-xv)

Bell’s view –reflected also in other assertions– corresponds to a linear model of innovation. This model, that subordinates technology to science, has proved insufficient to explain technological change. Nevertheless, his idea of a post-industrial society where the technical component of knowledge occupies a central role was an interesting approach to the upcoming changes.

In the 1990’s the model of society suggested by Bell, Drucker and others, with the presence of an important economic component, was described using different concepts: “Knowledge society” (KS), “Information society” (IS), “Network society” (NS). But there is not universal definition for these terms because their meaning emerges from the uses it has in a specific social context and it can differ from one society to another. These concepts then should not be regarded in purely static terms: being these changes something that keep taking place, they encompass experiences from countries having different, and sometimes opposing, political and social systems.

Taking into account the lack of a clear definition, we can say that IS is more generally used in the framework of the development of Internet and the ICT’s, making reference both to technological aspects and to its effects on economic growth and employment, whereas KS, emerged as an evolution of IS, and for some authors even as a substitute for it, is a more comprehensive concept which also considers both the central role of knowledge –mainly scientific knowledge– in the organization of society and its importance for the changes taking place in aspects such as economic structure, labor or education. This concept comprises the massive participation of science and technology on social and economic development as well as the knowledge easily accessible due to technological novelties. In between we find the concept of network society, defined by Manuel Castells as “a society where the key social structures and activities are organized around electronically processed information networks” (Castells, 2001).

The two major symbols for the KS are the hacker culture and Silicon Valley. The first one represents a real subculture primarily concern with curiosity, openness, sharing, cooperation and playful cleverness that enjoys the intellectual challenge of overcoming software systems’ limitations in a creative way. The second one is a geographical area where many of the world’s largest high-tech corporations and startup companies are placed, and whose social and business mentality encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. They are somehow opposed in its purpose, yet the first is associated with improving or creating software and sharing it –being free and open source software one of its outcomes–, whereas the second is aimed at creating products to commercialize them.

The fact that the use of the concept KS is previous to the development of ICT’s shows that it is not a consequence of these technologies but the other way round:

Ce n’est pas le développement des TIC qui a permis de passer de la société industrielle à la société de l’information. Les technologies ne sont venues qu’après, pour faciliter et multiplier les effets du passage à la société de l’information (Courrier, 2000).

Many are the changes associated to these new technologies. Some of them, as well as its consequences, can be found in Bell’s 1999 foreword to his book The Coming Of Post-industrial Society. We shall here point out only a few ones reflecting the relationship between technology, society and culture.

In the first place, the concept of technology has changed. In pre-industrial and industrial societies the term technology made reference mainly to physical objects, material things. In this new KS, we have a greater presence of intangible technology:

For most people, technology still means machines or mechanical modes –mecanisms that still exist, of course. But the newer technology of telecommunications and computers –which is the basis of post-industrial society–, is an intellectual technology with very different roots and patterns of learning than the mechanical technology that created the industrial world (Bell, 1999, xxxviii).

These changes have a reflection, for example, in some companies based on virtual entities which, with a few workers, reach a high economic value.

And even though some old calculating machines could be considered as intellectual technologies (Guijarro and González, 2010), its meaning has been broadened. On the one hand, technology contributes to specify how to do things in a reproducible way, and it allows us to manage reality and complex systems replacing intuition and decision making with algorithms in processes ranging from playing chess to the analysis of big data. On the other hand, technology –in particular computers– has become essential to process large amounts of information.

In the second place, new technologies make also possible the existence of a collective intelligence: individuals worldwide sharing knowledge in virtual spaces and having free access to it, being wikis –user-editable websites created by Ward Cunningham (WikiWikiWeb) and based on the collaborative modification of its content and structure directly from the web browser– a very good example of this idea.

All of this has contributed to consider the internet, one of the KS’ technological expressions, as a means of improving our society. For his advocates, KS can be considered more an ideal than a fact, something we are approaching and that will improve our society. Its proponents

have put a greater emphasis on the public engagement in science, and on debate and discussion. Involving people in the scientific enterprise and a widening participation in higher education among all groups and strata of society has been among their goals (Sörlin and Vessuri, 11-12).

But the values and meanings associated to the KS and its technologies are sometimes opposing, as reflects the variety of metaphors emerged around them (see the post “Metaphors” on this blog). His supporters consider that it offers people the possibility to emancipate, to become active society members, able to associate in order to get more power or representativeness. This new paradigm of KS drives to an apparent decentralization of power, a situation in which the individual gains power both over state and other economic powers. KS is then considered as a primary resource to create wealth, prosperity and well-being for the people. An example of this view can be seen in the following words from an interview to Abdul Waheed Khan, the UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information:

Actually, the two concepts are complementary. Information society is the building block for knowledge societies. Whereas I see the concept of ‘information society’ as linked to the idea of ‘technological innovation’, the concept of ‘knowledge societies’ includes a dimension of social, cultural, economical, political and institutional transformation, and a more pluralistic and developmental perspective. In my view, the concept of ‘knowledge societies’ is preferable to that of the ‘information society’ because it better captures the complexity and dynamism of the changes taking place. As I said before, the knowledge in question is important not only for economic growth but also for empowering and developing all sectors of society. Thus, the role of ICTs extends to human development more generally – and, therefore, to such matters as intellectual cooperation, lifelong learning and basic human values and rights (Kahn, 2003).

Nevertheless, the central role adopted by ICT’s & internet in our society has led, perhaps, to an overestimation of its possibilities and to the idea that this model should be extended to any society, no matter its necessities and social conditions.

This idea is on the basis of some utopic and presumably philanthropic projects originated in this environment, aimed at both promoting development and improving the non-developed countries’ quality of life. Thus, projects such as OLPC (One Laptop Per Child, a program launched in 2005 by Nicholas Negroponte aimed at transforming education in the developing world by creating and distributing specific computers, hardware and contents, http://one.laptop.org/) or internet.org (“a Facebook-led initiative with the goal of bringing internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have them” https://info.internet.org/en/mission/) may reflect an ethnocentric point of view which tries to export a specific model of society. This view corresponds to a technologically deterministic idea (see the post “Technological determinism” on this blog) ignoring that the cause and consequence of a technology depends on social, cultural and economic factors. As Daniel Bell states:

I am not a technological determinist, for all technology operates in a context not always of its making (such as politics and culture); yet technology is the major instrument of change (and instruments can be used well or badly) (Bell, 1999, xviii).

Technology does not determine social change; technology provides instrumentalities and potentialities. The ways that these are used involve social choices (Bell, 1999, xxxviii).

The criticism to the KS takes place at different levels. Some critics come from within. Such is the case, among others, of Mike Steep, Senior Vice President for the PARC innovation center in Palo Alto and who worked previously at Microsoft. In an interview he stated:

This town [Silicon Valley] used to think big—the integrated circuit, personal computers, the Internet. Are we really leveraging all that intellectual power and creativity creating Instagram and dating apps? Is this truly going to change the world? (Malone, 2015).

But other critics go further: For its detractors, KS is all about economy and social control; thus, the powerful media offered by the new technologies are considered to provide an effective tool to big economical institutions to “suggest” trends and global thinking in these changes (Crovi, 2002, 13), as well as to internet companies to have access to a huge amount of personal data available both to enrich these companies and to control individuals, something not always easily accepted within knowledge-sharing communities.

Still, for certain authors the consequences of all these changes are difficult to accept. For José Carlos Bermejo, the economic theory’ mathematical formalism has created

nociones ilusorias de economía y sociedad del conocimiento, que no solo están consiguiendo arruinar la economía real, sino también destruir los sistemas educativos en todos y cada uno de sus niveles (Bermejo, 2015, 7).

The point made here concerning education refers to the fact that, from the two main purposes associated to technical education since the eighteenth century (which can be applied to education in general), i.e., the moral purpose –aimed at both the complete development of the individual and his social integration–, and the economistic one –focused on the acquisition of skills– (Guijarro & González, 2015, Chapter 6), it seems to the author that the second option is the prevailing one.

Carlo Maria Cipolla wrote in his book Literacy and Development in the West, in the language of the late 1960`s, that “Instructing a savage in advanced techniques does not change him into a civilized person; it just makes him an efficient savage” (Cipolla, 1969, 110). It may be appropriate to recall his words in the present context.

References and further reading

Daniel Bell (1999), The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society, New York, Basic Books (first ed. 1973); José Carlos Bermejo (2015), La tentación del Rey Midas, Siglo XXI; Manuel Castells (2001), The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, business, and society, Oxford University Press, and “La dimensión cultural de internet”, Andalucía educativa, april 2003, n. 36, pp. 7-10; Carlo M. Cipolla (1969), Literacy and Development in the West, Penguin; Yves Courrier (2000), “Société de l’information et technologies ”, Points of View, UNESCO) ( http://www.unesco.org/webworld/points_of_views/courrier_1.shtml; Delia Crovi Druetta (2002), “Sociedad de la información y el conocimiento. Entre el optimismo y la desesperanza”, en Revista mexicana de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, n.º 185; Druker, Peter (1959), Landmarks of Tomorrow, New York, Harper, and (1969), The Age of Discontinuity, New York, Harper & Row; Víctor Guijarro and Leonor González (2010), La quimera del autómata matemático, Madrid, Cátedra and (2015), La comprensión cultural de la tecnología, Madrid, Universitas; Abdul Waheed Khan, (2003), A World of Science (UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Quarterly Newsletter), vol. 1, n.º 4, pp. 8-9, http://www.unesco.org/science/world_sc_july03.pdf; Michael S. Malone (2015), “The purpose of Silicon Valley”, MIT Technology Review, January, 30; S. Sörlin, and ‎H. Vessuri (eds.) (2007), Knowledge Society vs. Knowledge Economy, New York and Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.

Diffusion of innovations

Recently we happened to run into an article published in a Spanish leading newspaper titled “The enemies of innovation” (El País, “Los enemigos de la innovación”, 24/07/2016). Although the text echoes some of the inspiring conclusions present in the book written by Calestous Juma Innovation and its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies (Oxford University Press, 2016), it misses in our opinion central arguments of this publication, namely: how resistance shapes technologies, the tension between the need for innovation and the pressure to maintain social order, and policy strategies to manage public debate over the introduction of new technologies.

Calestous. Innovation enemies

A departing point in the studies carried out in the past four decades is the statement that “innovations do not sell themselves”, which puts under question the promethean and deterministic vision of technology that contemplates opposition to new devices as an external and accidental force. In this sense, an author worth mentioning is Everett M. Rogers, professor of communication studies, who explored the complexity of these phenomena by considering that innovations are in many cases alternatives that present an individual or an organization with new means of solving problems (Rogers, 1983, Preface, xviii). New resources generate concern, and as this author puts it “the probability of the new alternatives being superior to previous practice are not exactly known by the individual problem solvers. Thus, they are motivated to seek further information about the innovation in order to cope with the uncertainty that it creates” (Rogers, 1983, Preface, xviii-xix). An example described by Rogers will illustrate properly that the consequences of a new technology, despite good intentions, are not completely predictable, and therefore its value and meaning has to be reconsidered in order to incorporate subjective perceptions and social factors. The episode highlights the effects of the introduction of the steel axe by the missionaries in an Australian aborigine tribe:

The change agents intended that the new tool should raise levels of living and material comfort for the tribe. But the new technology also led to a breakdown of the family structure, the rise of prostitution, and ‘misuse’ of the innovation itself. Change agents can often anticipate and predict the innovations form, the directly observable physical appearance of the innovation, and perhaps its function, the contribution of the idea to the way of life of the systems members. But seldom are change agents able to predict another aspect of an innovations consequences, its meaning, the subjective perception of the innovation by the clients (Rogers, 1983, 32).

In order to analyse the complexity of this type of phenomena and to determine at what rate technology spreads, Rogers contemplates different categories. Firstly, one group is devoted to the key elements in diffusion research: a) innovation; b) communication channels; c) time; d) social system. Secondly, another group is devoted to the stages that make up the adoption process: a) knowledge; b) persuasion; c) decision; d) implementation; e) confirmation. A person is then exposed to the innovation, thereafter seeks information about it, and decides to accept or reject the new practice. If the person decides to adopt it, in the next stage, according to Rogers’ model, he/she proves the usefulness of the innovation and search meanwhile for more information. At the confirmation stage the person seeks reinforcement of the decision already made, and in this context there are still some possibilities of reversing the decision if he or she is exposed to conflicting messages about the innovation.

There are other valuable elements in the Rogers’ approach to the diffusion process, such as the identification of the sources of innovation; the rate of adoption; the adopter distributions over time (that tend to follow an S-shaped curve); the concept of overadoption (“the adoption of an innovation by an individual when experts feel he or she should reject”); the characteristics of the adopter; the influence of opinion leaders and values; the types of innovation-decisions (particularly interesting in this case is the authority innovation-decision, made by individuals in positions of influence or power)…

Everett Rogers’ studies provided consistent theoretical tools with a sound alternative view to the so called “pro-innovation bias”, that is, to the idea that “an innovation should be diffused and adopted by all members of a social system, that it should be diffused more rapidly, and that the innovation should be neither reinvented nor rejected” (Rogers, 1983, 92). Despite this important step, the influence of his perspective (the fifth edition of his book with additions was published in 2003) and the recognition of the influence of the cultural factors in the diffusion process (not contemplated as mere “enemies”), the complexity of the phenomena examined affected significantly the predictive capacity of his model.

Alternative approaches stressed the relevance of one or more aspects present in Rogers’ framework. In the sphere of computer-based information systems, the technology acceptance model (TAM) emphasises the rational oriented decisions made by individuals. In this perspective, the two basic determinants in the acceptance of a technology are the perceived usefulness and the perceived ease of use. But what results particularly problematic in this proposal is the concept of usefulness. By this idea we can refer either to actions intended to obtain immediate practical benefits or to social usefulness, which embraces those decisions made both to satisfy needs for acceptance by others and to meet the expectations placed on somebody by society. We can even add a third category, a cultural one, which accounts for the situations when a person accepts or refuses the use of technologies attending to moral considerations, for example, to protect the wish for solitude. Then the appeal to cost-benefit strategies is not, according to Brett Lunceford (Lunceford, 2009, 29-48), a precise theoretical position to explain the adoption of technologies. In this context, the concept of “resistance” does not have the connotation of an irrational action totally unrespectful with the inherent properties of an artefact.

An alternative view of the diffusion of innovations, in consonance with the actor-network premises, contemplates the participation of a diversity of entities in the redefinition and reinvention of a new technology, without establishing a clear distinction between human and nonhuman contributions. This perspective refuses any essentialist approach to technology (implicit in the “pro-innovation bias”), in which artefacts seem to have an internal force that makes them spread and multiply autonomously over the surface of the planet. The only limitations to this promethean force are local ignorance and eccentric cultural values. As Bruno Latour expresses it in Science in Action,

Society or ‘social factors’ would appear [in the essentialist perspective] only at the end of the trajectory, when something went wrong. This has been called the principle of asymmetry: there is appeal to social factors only when the true path of reason has been ‘distorted’ but not when it goes straight (Latour, 1987, 136).

In contrast, in the actor-network view one of the central concepts is that of “innovation translation”, which comprises the transformations an innovation experiments before it is admitted. So what happens sometimes is that in order to admit a technological innovation some aspects of an artefact are accepted and others are left out. An invention in this case is an entity constructed by the contribution of a variety of heterogeneous resources. As an example, Latour reinterprets in this way the standard history of the Rudolf Diesel engine. In his version things do not follow a linear story path with smooth transitions; a more accurate picture reveals instead twists and turns that reflect the “translation” process and the intervention of multiple factors, human, organizational, inanimate objects, sketches, images…

We saw -says Latour- that Diesel’s engine was a sketch in his patent, then a blueprint, then one prototype, then a few prototypes, then nothing, then again a single new prototype, then no longer a prototype but a type that was reproducible in several copies, then thousand of engines of different sub-types. So there was indeed a proliferation (Latour, 1987, 136).

Pequeño Calculador

Mechanism of “The little accountant”, used as an educational device at the end of the 19th Century (“F. SOENNECKEN’S VERLAG-BONN-BERLIN-LEIPZIG”). Private collection.

Furthermore, studies in this area have to assume as a primary approach to the subject that there are differences in the diffusion of technological innovations that correspond to the sector under examination (healthcare, administration, heavy industry, armed forces, large scale science, education…). With regard to education, there are distinctive features that explain how innovations are admitted in teaching practices, particularly in those affecting the material resources used in the classroom. For instance, one of these previous elements are the peculiarities of the social system involved in the process of assessing which part of the new information available deserves attention. In many cases innovations respond to decisions taken by administrative authorities, and sometimes with the resistance of teachers who have to alter their effective and well established routines in order to accommodate the new practices. It is then convenient in this context to explore how the “translation” process takes place. In Spanish secondary school, for example, the phonograph patented by Edison, the tin-foil model, was introduced in the students’ curricula by considering it a demonstrative apparatus appropriate for illustrating properties and phenomena related to acoustics matters. Beside these factors, values, such as progress, the promotion of practical teaching, antiverbalism… are also basic elements present in the rhetoric of politicians and opinion leaders, who insist in these images to reach the desirable consensus and to make the admission of innovations less problematic.

References and further reading

Lunceford Brett (2009), “Reconsidering Technology Adoption and Resistance: Observations of a Semi-Luddite”, Explorations in Media Ecology, 8, 29-48; Benoit Godin (2015), Innovation contested. The Idea of Innovation Over the Centuries, New York and London, Routledge; Bruno Latour (1987), Science in Action. How to follow scientists and engineers through society, Cambridge, Harvard University Press; Everett M. Rogers (1983, 3rd ed.), Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press of Glencoe; Barbara Wejnert (2002), “Integrating Models of Diffusion of Innovations: A Conceptual Framework”, Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 297-326.

Technology gap

Statistics show that United Kingdom has 60.2 million internet users in a population of 65.1 million (meaning that approximately 92,6% of the population accesses the internet), and in Afghanistan 2.2 million people access the internet in a population of 33.3 million (meaning that approximately 6,8% of the population are considered internet users).*

In order to examine these and other indicators of countries’ development associated to the disposition of technology, scholars have adopted the term technology access gap. According to some of their conclusions, differences in access to technological knowledge due to economic and geographical factors contribute, on the one hand, to deepen divisions between social groups and, on the other hand, to expand the distance between developed and underdeveloped countries. These separations and distances restrict individual or national chances to increase welfare levels and catch-up efforts.

In other situations, especially in developed countries, the technology gap does not depend only on the possibilities of having access to technologies due to technical or economic reasons, but on other factors that involve cultural values and collective shared believes. In these cases, what counts are the shifts in purposes, expectations, and moral premises that people associate to the use of technology and innovations. Then we talk about technology usage gap.

Women_and_technology_poster_colombia

 "If it's not appropriate for women, it's not appropriate. Women and technology", by De todos los Colores http://www.flickr.com/photos/nachoeuropa/5815949513/sizes/z/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26173982

As far as the cultural factors are concerned, in a society or social group where technologies are accessible, we can find ambivalent positions towards them, so we can find actions, ideas and feelings defending opposite stances about the proper extent of technical resources. According to the sociologist A. Touraine (Touraine, 1995) at present, with a few exceptions, we accept the achievements of science but we don’t accept a science controlled society. Two are the aspects of science and technology that generate apprehension: “big science” and technocracy. The reasons are not technical or conceptual; conversely, they involve fundamental issues concerning the defense of personal values and believes as well as national and cultural identities: the ideology associated with progress is thought to contribute, on the contrary, to the destruction of these principles.

In that respect, some sociological studies focused on the Spanish perception of new technologies -whose results do not differ significantly from those obtained in other countries- show that, in general, about 95% of the participants in the survey associated new technologies to progress, life’s comforts and efficacy. Nevertheless, innovations are still associated to job destruction: 59% resolved that they provoke unemployment; 40% of the respondents thought that they generate inequalities, and 56% related them to more control over individuals (Fernández Prados, 2003).

Among the causes of the usage gap, besides the attitudes aforementioned, are the following: individual situations related to the lack of skills or disposition for renovating technological knowledge; factors such as gender diversity, place of residence, educational background, or age as well as personal decisions concerning the defense of traditions or attitudes of mistrust towards the consequences of the use of technologies and the privacy loss.

In the specific case of limitations in access to and usage of ICTs (Information and Communication technologies) we talk about digital gap, and more specifically access digital gap and usage digital gap, so-called by some authors respectively first and second digital gap. This gap constitutes in turn a modern version of what we can name the analogue gap, associated to the use of telephones and measured by the “telephone density” or “teledensity” (number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area) (number of telephones per 100 inhabitants). Teledensity has a significant correlation with the per capita GDP of the area, but this parameter is not sufficient for measuring the digital gap. In the first place because in several countries wireless and internet penetration rate exceed fixed-line connections; in the second place because the digital gap is much bigger than the analogue one: developed countries, representing a 15 % of the population, account for more than a half of the telephone lines and over 70% of mobile phone users whereas underdeveloped countries, constituting 60% of the global population, account only for 5% of the internet users. Thus, in order to measure the digital gap we need to take into account not only mobile phones, computers and internet sites, but also adequate access costs and access options to internet as well as access to an appropriate training in order to achieve an efficient use of these infrastructures.

As a matter of fact, the rapid growth and penetration of digital telecommunications has taken place before the analogue gap was reduced, so now the question is not only bridging the digital access gap, but also the digital usage gap. One significant task various governments and non- governmental organizations have set themselves has been, in order to promote a sustainable development, the reduction of the differences mentioned. But their actions and strategies, mainly focused on education, have proved to be not sufficiently effective because they have just concentrated on making technological resources more accessible (attending then only the access gap). This approach has given rise to the myth that implementing technological infrastructure to access internet would provide sustainable development. Nevertheless applying technology in the right place and in the adequate dimension is only a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. Transforming the perception of technology demands a balance between this process and a precise attention to values, stereotypes, and role models. Therefore, the reduction of the digital gap is associated to sustainable development only when the target group become actively involved in the process, adopts a learning attitude, and plays a leading role in deciding the steps to take towards a better social, moral and intellectual welfare.

Another specific case of technology gap worth mentioning is the technological gender gap, which refers to the idea that males and females differ significantly in their consideration to technology-related skills, businesses and careers. This type of gap can be contemplated under the perspective of inequalities derived from power relationships. According to some researchers such as Paola Tabet (Tabet, 1979), the control men have over instruments, limiting to females the access to technologies, is a way to exert and maintain power and domination over women. She poses the hypothesis of an

sous-équipement des femmes et d’un gap technologique entre hommes et femmes, qui apparaît dès les sociétés de chasse et cueillette et qui, avec l’evolution technique s’est progressivement creusé et existe toujours dans les sociétés industrialisés (Tabet, 1979, 10).

In fact, the use of tools determinates the inclusion or exclusion of woman in specific activities, being the introduction of complex tools what sometimes determines the “masculinization” even of the most typically feminine activities. As Murdock & Provost stated: “When the invention of a new artifact or process supplants an older and simpler one, both the activity of which it is a part and closely related activities tend more strongly to be assigned to males” (Murdock & Provost, 1973, 212)

The permanence of this bias nowadays, despite the numerous efforts and initiatives underwent to reduce it, is reflected in stereotypes that represent tools and technology in general as male activities. Extended to the case of computers and new technologies, and not only to internet access, these presumed differences gave rise to the digital gender gap. Many publications and documentaries deal with this problem, denouncing it, exploring the causes and trying to offer solutions. For example, the documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap (Robin Houser Reynolds, 2015), offers a perspective of the subject and reveals that in the U.S. the gender gap was not so pronounced in the past as it is today: in the 1960s and 1970s, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men, but from the mid-1980 on –when 37% of the computer science graduates were women- the percentage of women held up and then started to decrease, reaching 14% in 2014 (Camp, 2001).

The digital gender gap is reflected mainly in three levels. Firstly, at school, boys and girls “interact with technology differently. While girls use the computer for word processing and skill building, boys use them mostly for games. Girls use technology as a way to connect with people and solve real life problems, whereas boys view technology as a way to extend their power”. Secondly, “the gender gap in computer use becomes more evident in advanced classes, as girls tend to have less confidence in their use of computers and both boys and girls perceive computers as in the ‘domain of males’”. Finally, as a consequence of this, girls and young women are showing less interest on computing education in higher levels, and there is a lack of feminine roles associated to technology (Dorman, 1998). The result is that women are underrepresented in the IT workforce.

References and further readings: George P. Murdock and Caterina Provost. “Factors in the Division of Labor by Sex: A Cross-Cultural Analysis”, Ethnology, 1973, 12, 2, pp. 203-225; Paola Tabet “Les mains, les outils, les armes”, L’Homme, 1979, 19, 3, pp. 5-61; Steve Dorman, “Technology and the gender gap”, The Journal of School Health, 1998, 68, 4, pp. 165-166; Tracy Camp, “Women in Computer Science: Reversing the Trend”, Syllabus, 2001, pp. 24-26; http://www.syllabus.com); A. Touraine, “The crisis of ‘progress’”, in Martin Bauer, Resistance to New technology. Nuclear Power, Information, Technology and Biotechnology, Cambridge University Press, 1995; J. Sebastián Fernández Prador, “El valor de la ciencia y de la tecnología en la cultura española contemporánea”, in E. Bericart Alastuey (dir.), El conflicto cultural en España. Acuerdos y desacuerdos entre españoles, Madrid, CIS, Siglo XXI, 2003; Mary Kirk, Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co-Create Global Partnership. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2008; Joel Cooper and Kimberlee D. Weaver, Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide, Philadelphia, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003; J. M. Cohoon and W. Aspray (eds.), Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2006.

* Internet Live Stats (www.InternetLiveStats.com). Elaboration of data by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), World Bank.

Metaphors

Lewis Mumford states in Technics and Civilization that

The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age. For every phase of its development the clock is both the outstanding fact and the typical symbol of the machine: even today no other machine is so ubiquitous (Nueva York, 1934, 14).

In this quotation it is assumed that the clock is not only a practical tool with a proper meaning in a technical context but a model for human behavior and experience, and for social organization as well. Then it has, together with many other technological objects, a cultural dimension that plays a significant role in the construction of collective ideals and values. And as such it mediates our perceptions and representations of the world. For instance, both the presence of clocks and the mechanical order of time in ordinary language, art, films and literature reveals how technological metaphors contribute to expand human communication resources and to shape reality. There are many examples of this. To mention just the most well-known, “time is money” (an expression normally credited to Benjamin Franklin –mentioned in Advice to a Young Tradesman, 1748- but surely used before, according to Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs) refers to a philosophy of life focused on profiting time; “like clockwork” is used when someone or something follows an unvarying schedule; “slave to the clock” is normally attributed to business workers. In fictional writings, we find novels like the one composed by Anthony Burgess, Clockwork orange, whose title -an oxymoron- expresses the contrast between the natural and the mechanical and disciplined. In Alice Adventures in Wonderland, time reflected by clocks means among other things the adult world, conventions and the absence of childhood fantasy.

In addition to the particular world of the clock, there are plenty of references proving the extension of technological imaginaries. “Machine” can mean a precise and repetitive process as a consequence of the perfect adjustment of its parts. The French writer Paul Valéry defined the poem as “a sort of machine aimed at producing the poetic state by means of words”, and the Spanish writer Antonio Machado refers to the record player as a “mechanical parrot” and to photography and cinema as “satanic inventions intended to bore human beings” (Cano Ballesta, 1981, 15-16).

In other occasions, metaphors originate from a process of substitution of technology as a whole by a singular entity (although in this case when the part equals the whole it is properly a metonymy). Such is the case, for instance, in the movie Emerald forest (1985), where a dam under construction in the Amazonia, which represents technological progress, provokes a confrontation between the threat of technology and a fragile nature. Thus, the dam represents technology, and the destruction of the forest represents the devastation of a civilization.

Analogies between machines and both the human body and mind have been a powerful and persistent source of metaphors through history (see “artefactual mind” on this blog). In our age the dominant symbol is the computer. Theorists have been using this artifact in cognitive sciences as a source of metaphors to understand and explain mental activity. Firstly, computer components are defined using analogies coming from the human mind (brain, memory, intelligence, etc.); secondly, they are incorporated to the description of several human actions, contributing in turn to look at the human body in a different way, as if it had a computer like organization. Also related to the human body, we can find metaphors which compare it with a machine, a factory or a mechanism: the heart is an engine, the food is the source of energy, muscles are the motors, etc. As a consequence of this, we construct a mechanistic idea of the body (see also, in this dictionary, the term “human automata”). There are also metaphors that originate from instruments aimed at measuring human capabilities or psychophysical factors. The ergograph, an instrument invented at the end of the 19th century to measure human fatigue, is credited to establish the adjustment of the human being to the demands of specific tasks at a factory. The ergograph is then considered an extension of the body, and its design is intended to determine productive capabilities of workers. Therefore both the factory machine and the body, assuming the fact that there is continuity between each other, are represented in a crude mechanistic approach as motors that exchange energy.

We should therefore attend to the technology of each time to account for particular similarities, comparisons and analogies employed in definitions and models present in our language. The classic version of the metaphor of the wax tablet that represents memory as a writing surface is found in Plato’s Theaetetus. In this dialogue, Socrates states “that our minds contain a wax block, which may vary in size, cleanliness and consistency in different individuals” (Draaisma, 2000, 24). At the time of Plato, wax tablets, a recording technology consisting in a board coated with wax, had already been in use for several centuries for taking notes. Later on other metaphors were used with similar purposes, such as the book, the phonograph, the photography, communication networks and, as was already mentioned, the computer (Draaisma, 2000).

Furthermore, power sources, communications, and automatic devices have provided images that are integrated in collective representations of the world. They are sometimes linked to the experience of sublimity, a collective emotion related to technology and the conquest of nature explored by David E. Nye in his book American Technology Sublime. Among the power sources, steam engines, and especially their steam, became a frequent metaphor during the 19th and part of the 20th century. It was associated to the power and strength of technology and to its capacity for mastering nature, at times through the invasion of natural spaces. It was also endowed with negative connotations. On the one hand, it was used to show the dark side of progress under the image of factory fumes. On the other hand, this image represents in social imaginaries the contrast between the healthy life in the country and the unhealthy pollution of industrial towns. Related to this metaphor, and transmitting the idea of speed, efficiency and the rapprochement between cultures through the reduction of the Earth dimensions, is the one associated to communications and transports (steam ships and railroads), which are frequently depicted in literary works and paintings as crossing a wild nature.

At the end of the 19th century, another power source turned up: electricity. Setting aside metaphors associated to its contributions to “illuminate our lives” and the ones regarding the light bulb, proclaimed as the symbol of the coming up with new ideas, there are metaphors related to its mysterious nature that introduced a certain degree of uncertainty on technological inventions. A different way of perceiving electricity is represented in the next illustration, which reflects anthropomorphized technologies conspiring against new born electricity.

Chapter-3-Punch-cartoon-giant-in-germ

Electricity: ‘A Giant in Germ – what will he grow to?’ Punch or the London Charivari, 25 June 1881.

Finally, metaphors related to automatism represent precision, reliability, efficiency and comfort, being clocks, gears, conveyors and assembly lines the objects most frequently used to express these values. In the case of factories, the workers became part of the machine itself, as reflected in Charles Chaplin movie Modern times (1936). Human beings are depicted in these contexts facing repetitive tasks and consequently deprived of creativity. In general, artists have had an ambiguous relationship with technology: at one extreme, we place the emergence of the Italian futurism, which celebrated the outburst of machines; at the other, we have the dystopic tradition exemplified by many novels, movies and plastic expressions (notable examples in this respect are Raoul Haussmann and George Grosz).

The presence of metaphors in human symbolic manifestations is, in sum, a consequence of the ever increasing relevance acquired by technology in the western cultures, or as Jacques Ellul puts it, a result of the new “environment” in which human beings construct their experiences:

Technology constitutes an engulfing universe for man, who finds himself in it as in a cocoon. He cannot have any relationship with the ‘natural’ world except through technological mediation. By the same measure, he can only have relationships with other men through technological mediation, i.e. through material technologies like the telephone, radio and videophone: technology is at the same time immediate to man and the universal mediation between men. On the one hand, technology devalues all other mediations and man seems to have no need of symbolic mediation because he has technological mediation. It even appears to man that technology is more efficacious and permits him a greater domination over what threatens him and a more certain protection against danger than does the symbolic process. On the other hand, one does not perceive the need for the creation of new symbols because man has not become conscious that technology no longer constitutes a means, but is rather his environment. Hence it is now the relationship to technology that man must proceed to symbolize […] (Ellul, 1978, 216).

References and further readings: Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc., 1934; Francis D. Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution, London, N. Carrington, 1947 (Spanish edition: Arte y Revolución Industrial, Cátedra, 1983); Jacques Ellul, “Symbolic function, technology and society”, Journal of Social and Biological Structure, 1978, 1, 207-218; Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1978 (Spanish edition: La enfermedad y sus metáforas. El sida y sus metáforas, Random House Mondadori, 2008); Juan Cano Ballesta, Literatura y tecnología. Las letras españolas ante la Revolución Industrial (1900-1930), Madrid, Editorial Orígenes, 1981; David E. Nye, American Technology Sublime, Cambridge (Mass.), The MIT Press, 1994; Douwe Draaisma, Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas about the Mind, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000; Patrice Flichy, L’imaginaire d’Internet, Paris, Éditions La Découverte & Syros, 2001 (Spanish edition: Lo imaginario de Internet, Tecnos, 2003); Vasilia Christidou, Kostas Dimopoulos, and Vasilis Koulaidis, “Constructing social representations of science and technology: the role of metaphors in the press and the popular scientific magazines”, Public Understanding of Science, 13 (2004), pp. 347-362, ; Rosa Delgado Leyva, La pantalla futurista, Madrid, Cátedra, 2012.

Educational technology

“A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be”.

Arthur C. Clark

The concept is concerned with the different procedures, methods and equipment used in the improvement of effectiveness in the learning process. Although the definition has a broad meaning and comprises many proposals that trace back to ancient times and the Sophistic pedagogy, here we focus the attention on practices that highlight the importance of teaching with aids such as actual objects, models and pictures.

This perspective was in accordance with the premises of the empirical viewpoint consolidated in the Enlightenment. It was in this period when a significant number of intellectuals maintained that knowledge was built basically through the acquisition and addition of simple observations and experiences. According to these ideas, visual resources provided a more effective understanding of the world than verbal constructions and books. In addition, the confirmation of theories by means of public demonstrative experiments and mechanical devices was regarded as a definite proof of its consistency and therefore utility.

As a consequence of this vision, since the 1750s there has been an increasing interest manifested by educational authorities in the acquisition of large collections of objects and models. Every reference to up-to- date education and modernization included the allusion to the provision of equipment intended to illustrate scientific and technical branches of knowledge. This situation and principles remained almost untouched throughout the 19th century, the only significant innovation being the formation of pedagogical museums in the second part of this period. In the concrete-abstract debate, the appeal to visual material was seen as the perfect antidote against verbalism. As the following text put it in 1886,

The objects of thought used in teaching are the real object, which is the material object in relation with the senses, or the mental object distinctly in consciousness; the model, which represents, in the solid, the form, color, size, and relative positions of the parts of the object; the picture, which imperfectly represents on a surface the appearance of the object in position, form, color, and relative position of parts; the diagram, which represents on a surface the sectional view of the object; the experiment, which shows the action and effects of physical forces; language, as an object of thought, in the formation of words. (Proceedings of the National Education Association, quoted in Paul Saettler, 2004, 140).

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th the tendency described was reinforced by the educational model promoted by the visual instructional movement. Both trends responded to the coming of the machine age by demanding more practical curricula. The new instruments proposed to meet the requirements were the museum exhibits, the photographs, and the projected slides (together with the promotion of excursions to give students firsthand experiences of farms, factories, workshops…). Companies devoted to the production of different type of media contributed in a decisive way to the consolidation of the “visual education” perspective. A representative sign of the spirit of the times and the expectations arisen from the new mentality is what T. A. Edison said in 1913: “Books will soon be obsolete in schools”, and “Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye. It is possible to touch every branch of human knowledge with the modern picture” (quoted in Larry Cuban, 1986, 11).

Primary attention was given in these contexts to the virtues possessed by the technology rather than to the effects of the devices on students. Therefore other pedagogical orientations contemplated the use of artifacts in class and museums as heuristic resources intended to improve student’s skills in the process of searching solutions, understanding the principles of a mechanism or learning the rules of technical knowledge. This perspective stressed the active implication of the student and rejected the passive attendance to contents mediated by technological demonstrations. In this constructivist approach, technology objects were not just instruments (in a behaviorist sense) but essential parts of an integral learning process.

Concerning the results of the visual-media education philosophy, P. Saettler (2004, 168) quotes the following words written by F. Dean McClusky, professor of education at the University of California and researcher in the field of audio-visual instruction from the early years of its diffusion:

The coming of the machine age and the realization that all who went to school could not enter white-collar jobs implemented the growing demand for more practical curricula and more functional methodologies. A wholesome distrust of “book learning”, as such, was to be found in many quarters. However, educators in general were slow to adopt new techniques of communication as they became available at the close of the nineteenth century. Evolving slowly were ideas on how best to use new media, such as the museum exhibit, the photograph, the projected still picture, and the motion picture, in instruction.

There were pioneers, of course, who experimented with the new media, and they made history. But the impact of their efforts on the broad stream of instruction caused little more than ripple on the surface. Education is conservative. It takes time to bring about widespread changes in content and methodology […]

The dream of educators, as Larry Cuban points out, has been making instruction both productive and enriching. This means, for the author, wishing that students learn more and faster while teachers teach less, a recurrent ideal that has persisted from the invention of the lecture centuries ago to the appropriation of projectors, films, radios, televisions and computers (Cuban, 1986, 2). The problem is nevertheless that the high speed of innovations, celebrated by politicians, administrators and wholesalers, contrasts with the slow pace of acceptance of technologies by the ultimate responsible of mastering and using them in class, the teacher.

Àl'école. En l'an 2000. Villemard         Villemard, “À l’école”, En l’an 2000, 1910.

Further reading: Larry Cuban, Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920, Nueva York, Teacher College, 1986; Paul Saettler, The Evolution of American Educational Technology, Greenwich, Connecticut, IAP, 2004; M. Eraut (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Educational Technology, Oxford/New York, Pergamon Press, 1989.

Artifactual mind

The close relation between human beings and the world surrounding them drove various philosophers to consider the connections between mind, body and culture; and more specifically, as respects technology, between hand, mind and artifact.

Firstly, regarding the connection mind-artifact, several authors have pointed out that external objects and technical artifacts can be considered a part of human cognition. Some of the perspectives that point to this idea are the Extended mind thesis (EMT) and the Artifactual mind thesis (AMT).

The first one maintains that cognitive processes are not all in the head because certain technical artifacts are used in such a way that they can be seen as extensions of the mind itself and can become part of the cognitive system. In this regard, EM theorists propose to revise the concept of individual as such and expand our selves to include not only our bodies but also those non-biological parts (i.e. processes and artifacts).

In accordance with this theory, biological human organism (individual’s brain) would remain the center and the starting point of cognition. For EM supporters it is assumed that cognition arises from the inside, but it’s also assumed that the brain is not affected and altered by external material influences.

Both this and other versions of the EM theory, the so-called ‘second-wave EMT’ and ‘third-wave EMT’, have been discussed by several authors.

One of the critics is C. Aydin, who argues that EMT advocates have not succeeded in overcoming the division inside-outside, a cartesian legacy that prevent them from seeing to what point our view of cognition is influenced by modern technologies. He disagrees with their view of the brain as an isolated initiator of cognition –view also disputed by empirical research that shows how socio-cultural influences can alter certain areas of the brain and the way it functions– and suggests that “Cognition should be understood as a self-organizational process in which brains, bodies and world simultaneously participate and depend on one another”.

This way, as an alternative, a step further and a contribution to the EMT debate, Aydin proposes the Artifactual Mind Theory (AMT), which defends the idea that external objects, artifacts and processes should not be conceived as inanimate and unintelligent matter external to our mind: “thought is located in a world of objects”, and objects and artifacts enable us to induce and develop certain thoughts (Aydin, 2013). Mind, therefore, has an artifactual character and, as Wittgenstein already pointed out, it’s “not extended by objects and artifacts but rather unfolds through and is shaped by them. […] Acknowledging that our thinking has an artifactual character means recognizing that external objects and technical artifacts, rather than being utilized by an inside world, have shaped and are continuously shaping the very fabric of our thinking”. That means then that “Artifacts are not neutral tools that are functionally utilized by an internal biological core, as expressed by EMT; rather they shape to a great extent what we consider as our ‘inner,’ mental realm of goals, aspirations and ideals.” (Aydin, 2013)

On this theory, Aydin follows American philosopher Charles S. Peirce’s (1839-1914), forerunner of these ideas, and his philosophy of mind:

According to Peirce, thinking is not instigated by such internal impressions but rather everything starts with what he sometimes calls “percepts,” which are “out in the open.” Peirce repudiates the idea that we have immediate access to our ‘inside realm’ and a mediated access to the outside world. That is why he can say: “It is the external world that we directly observe”. Thinking is not instigated by ‘introspection’ but by ‘extrospection.’ Although in this reversal Peirce still uses an inside–outside distinction, his argument ultimately culminates in a kind of collapse of that distinction. […]

Peirce stresses, and this is crucial, that these percepts have a mental character. This, however, does not mean that they are products of individual brain processes. Indeed, “[t]hought is”, according to Peirce, “not necessarily connected with a brain. It appears in the work of bees, of crystals, and throughout the purely physical world; and one can no more deny that it is really there, than that the colors, the shapes, etc., of objects are really there”. Our world of objects and artifacts does not only consist of matter but also of mind (Aydin, 2013)

Peirce holds the view that the principle of individuation that allows us to talk of minds and selves in the plural is privation: “Psychological analysis shows that there is nothing which distinguishes my personal identity except my faults and my limitations”. Peirce’s belief is “that we are not detached, atomistic egos living in a separate inside world but ‘cells of a social organism’, who discover and develop themselves in an interaction with their environment”.

Other philosopher whose ideas coincide with Peirce’s view of mind is Karl Popper, who was especially interested in memory enhancing artifacts. According to him, although mind is the ultimate source of knowledge, it does not reside in mental states or inside the human mind, but rather exosomatically, in books, articles, and the like, that is, in objects and artifacts (that function then as mere storage):

Yet the kind of exosomatic evolution which interests me here is this: instead of growing better memories and brains, we grow paper, pens, pencils, typewriters, dictaphones, the printing press, and libraries. […] The latest development (used mainly in support of our argumentative abilities) is the growth of computers.

We use, and build, computers because they can do many things which we cannot do; just as I use a pen and pencil when I wish to tot up a sum I cannot do in my head. ‘My pencil is more intelligent than I,’ Einstein used to say.

Secondly, we are briefly mentioning the interesting unity and close connection between hand and head (or mind), that was already revealed by Kant: “the hand is the window on to the mind”. In his book The Craftsman, a defense of the sensibility associated to manual activities, Richard Sennet states: “such unity shaped the ideas of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment; it grounded Ruskin’s nineteenth-century defense of manual labor” (Sennet, 2008, 178). There, he makes

two contentious arguments: first, that all skills, even the most abstract, begin as bodily practices; second, that technical understanding develops through the powers of imagination. The first argument focuses on knowledge gained in the hand through touch and movement. The argument about imagination begins by exploring language that attempts to direct and guide bodily skill. This language works best when it shows imaginatively how to do something. The use of imperfect or incomplete tools draws on the imagination in developing the skills to repair and improvise. The two arguments combine in considering how resistance and ambiguity can be instructive experiences; to work well, every craftsman has to learn from these experiences rather than fight them. (Sennet, 2008, 10)

He describes how, according to various thinkers, the connection hand-mind laid the foundation of human development: in 1833 Charles Bell expressed the idea of “an intelligent hand” in his book The hand, and Charles Darwin reviewed it suggesting the influence of the use of the arms on the increase of monkey’s brain size and in the long run on the emergence of human culture (Sennet, 2008, 150).

In evolution, Darwin surmised, the brains of apes became larger as their arms and hands were used for other purposes than steadying the moving body. With greater brain capacity, our human ancestors learned how to hold things in their hands, to think about what they held, and eventually to shape the things held; man-apes could make tools, humans make culture.

Until recently, evolutionist thought that it is the uses of the hand, rather than changes in its structure, that have matched the increasing size of the brain, Thus, a half-century ago Frederick Wood Jones wrote, “It is not the hand that is perfect, but the whole nervous mechanism by which movements of the hand are evoked, coordinated, and controlled” which has enabled Homo sapiens to develop”. (Sennet, 2088, 150)

As a consequence of this interaction hand-mind, also the structure of the hand has evolved, making possible the distinctive physical experience of grip thanks to the opposition of thumb to other digits combined with subtle changes in the index finger bones. Sennet underlines other complex manual actions that reflect the intimate connection between hand and mind, like letting go, prehension, coordination, cooperation between hands, force control, rhythm, etc.

Finally, we are including a general reference to the interaction between mind, body and the world and culture surrounding them, which can be schematized in the following diagram. It represents the way body and culture shape the functions and structure of the mind through perceptions, and the way our mind has an influence on the culture through the actions carried out by our body.Esquema mind-body-culture

References: Ciano Aydin, “The artifactual mind: overcoming the ‘inside-outside’ dualism in the extended mind thesis and recognizing the technological dimension of cognition”, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, May 2013; Richard Sennet, The Craftsman, Yale University Press, 2008; M. Pérez Álvarez, El mito del cerebro creador. Cuerpo, conducta y cultura, Alianza editorial, 2011.

Factory system

Procedures of manufacturing, consolidated along the nineteenth century, based on three main elements: machinery, organization and control. It is considered one of the basic inventions of the Industrial Revolution. Among the three components mentioned, some authors stress the importance of the first aspect, and speak about mechanization and technological innovations powered by water or steam as the key factors of the new system. Others instead, such as the historian of technology A. Pacey, focus the attention on the second and especially on the third dominion. The Industrial Revolution was then, according to Pacey’s perspective, a radical change in the methods of control and discipline of workers labor. In this regard, the factory system represented an entirely new vision and an alternative that in the long run would replace the domestic and the putting-out system. Besides these effects, new procedures meant a serious challenge to artisan skills which were displaced by machinery innovations. This was the motive behind the luddites’ protests and sabotage actions against factories. The innovative spirit was nevertheless an ever increasing tendency connected to internationalization of markets, competition and the deregulation measures.

One of the most influential advocates of the factory system was the Scottish professor of chemistry Andrew Ure, who expressed his enthusiastic points of view in The Philosophy of Manufactures (London, 1835). He was completely persuaded of the advantages of the automatism pushed by technology advances, and in this regard stated that the ideal manufacture was the one that excluded absolutely the contribution of manual workers. The following quotation contains authors’ optimistic confidence in the social benefits of the factory system, in contrast with reformers’ opinions of labor conditions:

I have visited many factories, both in Manchester and in the surrounding districts, during a period of several months, entering the spinning rooms, unexpectedly, and often alone, at different times of the day, and I never saw a single instance of corporal chastisement inflicted on a child, nor indeed did I ever see children in ill-humour. They seemed to be always cheerful and alert, taking pleasure in the light play of their muscles, enjoying the mobility natural to their age. The scene of industry, so far from exciting sad emotions in my mind, was always exhilarating. It was delightful to observe the nimbleness with which they pieced the broken ends, as the mule-carriage began to recede from the fixed roller-beam, and to see them at leisure, after a few seconds’ exercise of their tiny fingers, to amuse themselves in any attitude they chose, till the stretch and winding-on were once more completed. The work of these lively elves seemed to resemble a sport, in which habit gave them a pleasing dexterity. Conscious of their skill, they were delighted to show it off to any stranger. As to exhaustion by the day’s work, they evinced no trace of it on emerging from the mill in the evening; for they immediately began to skip about any neighbouring playground, and to commence their little amusements with the same alacrity as boys issuing from a school. It is moreover my firm conviction, that if children are not ill-used by bad parents or guardians, but receive in food and raiment the full benefit of what they earn, they would thrive better when employed in our modern factories, than if left at home in apartments too often ill-aired, damp, and cold (300-301) […]

Mr. Hutton, who has been in practice as a surgeon at Stayley Bridge upwards of thirty-one years, and, of course, remembers the commencement, and has had occasion to trace the progress and effect, of the factory system, says that the health of the population has much improved since its introduction, and that they are much superior in point of comfort to what they were formerly. He also says that fever has become less common since the erection of factories, and that the persons employed in them were less attacked by the influenza in 1833, than other classes of work-people (398) […].

These ideas were the target of criticism by Karl Marx, who analyzed working conditions under the premises of the alienation theory. Other disagreements came from liberal positions, such as the ones maintained by John Stuart Mill. He asserted that so far technology hadn’t made any sound contribution to relief human fatigue. Assuming the social consequences of automatism and technology innovations, other theorists (e. g. David A. Wells in the second half of the nineteenth century) saw the factory system under the capitalist rule as the best option to generate wealth, the supreme factor that guarantees prosperity in the free market model. A step further in the evolution of the factory system was the scientific approach of labor organization in the workplace undertaken by Friederick Winslow Taylor and exposed in his Principles of Scientific Management (1913). The purpose in this case was the improvement of productivity and the reduction of useless tasks by the precise examination (with chronometers) of workers movements. Scientific management studies have nevertheless evolved significantly through the twentieth century, particularly in order to modify the initial crude engineering methodologies.

Natural (versus artificial)

As Marta Fehér states, Greek philosophers deprecated the crafts and their products. A higher value was ascribed to what was produced by nature, while ‘artificial’ meant something dead and, in general, inferior to natural things. For Plato all artefacts (including pieces of art) were imitations of something natural, of ideas (in fact imitations of imitations), conceptions that we can find well reflected in his myth of the cave. For Aristotle natural and artificial had nothing in common because both formed two different spheres of reality, the artificial was not a copy of something natural already existent but something new. This Aristotelian natural/artificial dichotomy was finally destroyed in the 17th century (mainly by F. Bacon and Descartes) and prejudices against the mechanical arts started to disappear; the artificial sphere became a model for understanding nature. (Marta Féher, “The natural and the artificial: (an attempt at conceptual clarification)”, Periodica Polytechnica Social and Management Sciences, 1993, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 67-76)

Some years before Fehér, Paolo Rossi pointed out that present conceptions denying basic differences between art products and natural products contradict dominant assumptions maintained in the classic Greek culture. Aristotelianism and hippocratic medicine contemplated nature as an ideal and a rule for art to achieve its purposes. Frequent parallelisms between art and nature in Aristotelian texts are intended then to make easier the understanding of the less familiar (nature) by the more accessible practices (art). Later on, in the medieval period, art was associated with the concept of imitatio naturae. As in ancient times, every attempt to reach perfection, represented by nature, was regarded in those years as a sign of impiety and temerity. Hugh of Saint Victor (1096-1141), a leading theologian, considered mechanical arts as adulterinae precisely because they borrow their modes from nature. As it was mentioned before, from the Renaissance on these distances and reserves were gradually dissolved, Francis Bacon being one of the most active contributors to this revisionist perspective (P. Rossi, I Filosofi i le Macchine, 1400-1700, 1962) (for consequences in the representations of human beings and minds, see on the blog “human automaton”). Nevertheless, in recent times we still identify “natural” with properties that make a product superior to any type of manufactured or manipulated good.  This is particularly noticeable in arguments supported by homeopathic treatments practitioners or in pronouncements against genetically modified food.

Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and William R. Newman, editors of the book The Artificial and the Natural. An Evolving Polarity (Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2007, 2-3), present the dichotomy as an open question that demands a cultural approach (because the concept of nature not only has physical connotations, but moral and social ones as well):

 As Roald Hoffman pointed out in The Same and Not the Same, the “rational” arguments used by modern chemists in order to fight the popular prejudice against chemicals are largely useless, because they ignore the cultural aspects of the issue. The concept of nature functions and has always been used as a cultural value, a social norm, and a moral authority. Debates over art and nature generally conceal the broad questions that undergo and drive them: is techne a continuation of nature’s activity (tools being viewed as something like the prolongation of a person’s hand), a rebellion against nature, or a challenge to nature? The nature of technology and its legitimacy, the situation of humans as technicians among other animals, and the status of artisans in society are among the broad issues at stake. Because of the importance of such philosophical implications and cultural roots in all the debates over the impact of technologies, we cannot simply dismiss the distinction between art and nature as a “popular prejudice” or as an “irrational nostalgia for the past”.