Humans and Technologies

Humans and their technologies share a continually co-evolving intertwined relationship. In fact, technology is an important extension of the human psyche; forming a socio-technological evolution. Humans have always adapted themselves very well to technology, increasing its efficiency. Technology is imbued and created for a purpose, and that purpose is always to further a need or desire which is a part of humans. Technologies are and will be created to aid in the fulfillment of some aspect of humans and as such will be intricately tied to humanity for its purpose; for its very existence. Technology is a composite system, in which the everyday lives of humans is embedded. Thus, the two cannot be isolated.

The diverse themes in technology, whether it is information technology or media technology, is tied by a human thread that humans, whether as individuals, teams or societies, assume participatory or integral roles throughout all the levels of technological development. Humans design new technologies; people, in teams and organizations, at school and at home, use them; people anticipate and enjoy their benefits; and they learn about the outcomes of use and translate that knowledge into the next generation of systems. At the same time, new technologies and human societies advance, transforming each other in the process. As a consequence, the design of technology must be sensitive to human values and preferences.

What is specific to the modern, technological world can thus not be sought in traditional things. An important characteristic of modern technology is that the entire human habitat has changed along with the technological artifacts. Upon closer examination, modern technology is found not to consist of a collection of isolated things and processes, but the very environment in which the artifacts function has been brought within the realm of technology. Technology is therefore more than the sum of an array of technological components. Technology in modern society has become a complex system that can be viewed as the common house in which we all live together today. Technology today consists of more than a number of distinct and isolated components. In general we do not pay much attention to these things, but at times we become aware, usually when something goes wrong, that our existence, individually and societal, has become virtually entirely dependent on complex and, as a rule, susceptible technological infrastructures. In the book on bridging communication studies and science and technology studies, the author talks about the social consequences of technological change. The internet, for example has a profound influence both culturally and socially on the society. This supports the concept of cyborg anthropology (short for cybernetic organism) is a symbiotic fusion of man and machine; that technology transforms and mediates social relationships.

Today’s media revolution is announcing itself with a new and strange vocabulary. Blog, Podcast, Wikis, Wikipedia, Vlogs, and Folksonomies. A weblog, which is usually shortened to blog, is a type of website where entries are made (such as in a journal or diary), displayed in a reverse chronological order. Mostly blogs provide people a medium where they can provide commentary or news on a particular subject, such as politics, local news, gossips etc. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. Most blogs are primarily textual although many focus on photographs, videos or audio. These personal online diaries are gaining in reach and is a powerful tool to voice one’s opinion and for social networking. It is a great way to spread information, which is hard to find on the internet.

McLuhan’s most widely known work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) is also a pioneering study in media ecology. In it McLuhan proposed that media themselves, not the content they carry, should be the focus of study –- popularly quoted as “the medium is the message.” McLuhan’s theory was that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. McLuhan pointed to the light bulb as a clear demonstration of this concept. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.” More controversially, he postulated that content had little effect on society –- in other words, it did not matter if television broadcasts children’s shows or violent programming, to illustrate one example -– the effect of television on society would be identical. He noted that all media have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways; for instance, a passage in a book could be reread at will, but a movie had to be screened again in its entirety to study any individual part of it. For example, the message of a newscast about a heinous crime may be less the individual news story itself — the content — and more the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are in effect being brought into the home to watch over dinner.

“The medium is the message” tells us that noticing change in our societal or cultural ground conditions indicates the presence of a new message, that is, the effects of a new medium. (McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill, 1964).


2 Responses to “Humans and Technologies”

  1. katiekoep Says:

    I want to address your discussion of McLuhan because I forgot to include his ideas in my post. I think you do an excellent job of explaining his position on media content and media’s effect on society — your TV at the dinner table example is perfect. But it is also more than that. What is the real “message”? What do the effects of the television or other given medium tell us about our society and about technology? Because McLuhan puts so much power in the hands of the medium, it seems to take on a negative role. He seems to be pushing the idea that the media is controlling us. “The medium is the message” seems to become a cautionary warning, when, in fact, this idea can be a positive one as well. And I think McLuhan probably meant it to be considered in both lights. I also think you do a good job of identifying some of these positive ways in which media affects us.

  2. christinatx Says:

    Nice post. I woudl also lke to etion that we do adapt oursleves to new technologies failry well, especially the younger generations. Technoloy does impact every sector of our lives (work, home, school, etc.), as you had mentioned. These technologies are created for a purpose, which is to further our advancement as a society.
    I do have to add on to Katie’s question. I think the use of these mediums and the effects that they produce show that we as a society are changing and altering the way in which we send and recieve our messages (as well as our dependence of these).

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