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Some technology food for thought

June 28, 2010, 3:18 pm

I’m back from vacation and hopefully will be resuming the kind of blogging pace I had while at ASEE last week. I certainly have a lot to process and share. But right now I want to share just a couple of thoughts from one of the sessions. The speaker was Steven Walk of Old Dominion University, speaking on something called “quantitative technology forecasting” — a sort of data analytics approach to the study of how technology emerges and disperses — as a platform for helping students acquire technological literacy. He made a couple of statements which have had my brain turning them over ever since. These are paraphrased off my hastily-taken notes. First:

Technology is any creation that provides humans with a compelling advantage to sustain that creation.

That would imply that technology is a much larger term than we typically imagine, encompassing such things as law, accounting, even language itself. So are all the typically technological items we think about such as computers, automobiles, and agriculture. The sort of free-market definition here is intriguing, but I wonder, what’s an example of something that is not technology? Would art qualify, since there is no sort of evolutionary “compelling advantage” to sustain artistic efforts (we just do it because we like art)? Can something be technology during one period or history and then, once it’s outlived its compelling advantage, cease to be technology?

Second:

Technology is just externalized physiology. All technology arises out of a need for human beings to extend their own bodies.

As someone who views my Macbook Pro along with OmniFocus as a replacement for my brain, I can identify with that. And of course other items are easy to see: cars allow us to move faster and farther than our bodies alone can; telephones allow us to speak with people far away. But what of the other, broader items of “technology”? How is accounting, for example, something which our ancestors created to extend themselves to something their bodies wouldn’t do?

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