Monday, April 12, 2010

10 Questions to Ask about Technology

Here is a post from my two course blogs this semester, for Approaches to Visual Culture & Digital Narrative: Theory and Practice. Both classes are now focusing on new media (Digital Narrative always has), and I worked up these questions more for the Art History class, to help us get our minds around how a new cultural form changes everything. Of course, as we've seen in our exploration of 20th century visual culture, this is nothing new, and as each medium was new, and then not, it was a lightning rod for cultural discourse. In order to understand the virtual art we'll be exploring and making next week, we have to dig into the opposition between "reality" and "artifice" that we've seen questioned all semester--in I Love Lucy even! (sly plug for my new book, available April 15 everywhere!) It is fascinating to think about SL in reading through these questions . . . and I'll be asking my students to do that in the coming weeks.

Here are Ten Questions (ok, there are more, because some questions are kind of nested) to ask about a new technology tool that help us think about it in its wider cultural context. I am working off of, as usual, Cultural Studies founder Stuart Hall's idea of the circuit of culture, in which production, consumption, regulation, representation, and identity are all mutually informing. When we combine this with the historical trajectory perspective I am always harping on--which puts any given cultural text (game, device, app, film, dvd menu, etc) in a lineage of antecedents, looks for its peak if it has had it yet, and then speculates wildly on what might come next--we will always have a lot to talk about when we talk about any new aspect of technology, beyond the thumbs up/thumbs down reaction from which we might start and then come back to at the end, perhaps more thoughtfully.

Ten questions to ask about a new technology:

1) What is its purpose?

2) What was its analog, if there was one? How does a mediated, digital, or networked version of the tool or technique change it?

3) Who uses it? How? When? Where? Why? Does the use change over time? Do different users use it differently?

4) How does a user learn how to use it?

5) Who makes it? Who profits? How?

6) How is it regulated?

7) How does it spread?

8) Does it create or fill a need?

9) What is the interface? Is it also an object? Or a practice? Both? (think cell phone)

10) How does the user change the technology as he or she uses it? (mods and hacks and appropriations) How does the technology change the user? How does it become part of a person's sense of self?