PHL 390

Philosophy

& Technology

Dr. Dennis Weiss                          Fall Semester, 2019
Preparatory Work Page

You'll find on this page all the preparatory work that needs to be completed prior to coming to class each day. You will find the readings on our Moodle course site or in the assigned text. Please note that this list of preparatory work is subject to revision. I recommend that you bookmark this page, return to it regularly, and remember to regularly refresh your browser. 

PART ONE: INTRODUCING THE COURSE
8/27 TUESDAY

In Chapter One of Culture and Technology Slack and Wise point out that you know a lot about culture and a lot about technology. Let's see what we know. Prior to the start of the semester, discuss with your parents and/or grandparents their experiences of going to school (either high school or college) and what role technology played in those experiences. How did technology shape their experiences? Compare their experiences with technology and the culture of school with your own experiences with technology and the culture of school. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What do you think this allows you to infer about the relationship of technology and culture?

A draft of your first writing assignment is due in class today. Bring a printed copy of your reflections to class.

8/29 THURSDAY

We'll continue our introductory discussion of technology and culture. Your first Micro Essay is due today. Remember, it must be on a 4x6 index card and you should aim for a minimum of 150 words.

Read: David Nye, Technology

Micro Essay: How does David Nye's short reflections on technology help us better understand how to think about technology? Try to identify two or three key "takeaways" from Nye's essay.

9/3 TUESDAY

Does the Internet change the way we think? This was Edge's annual question back in 2010. You might be interested in checking out some of the responses. Much of the debate on this issue was kickstarted by Nicholas Carr.

Read: Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Micro Essay: See if you can reconstruct Carr's argument in this essay. What is his conclusion? What is the evidence he cites in support of his conclusion?

For a different take on the impact of technology on attention, you may be interested in Katherine Hayles, Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes

We'll also review our course requirements today. If you've not yet read the course policies page carefully, please do so.

9/5 THURSDAY

Debate #1: Is Smart Technology Making Us Dumb?

Listen to/Watch: The Intelligence Squared Debate, making note of the various arguments offered for and against the motion "Smart Technology is Making Us Dumb." Think about how the participants in this debate address the question of technology? Might we be able to apply some of our initial insights about technology to analyzing this debate?

The first short essay is due today, if you choose to write one on this debate. If you do not write a short essay, complete the micro essay.

Micro Essay: Who do you find yourself most agreeing with in this debate? Why?

9/10 TUESDAY

Let's discuss some definitions of technological culture. We'll consider Slack and Wise's account and an account from the historian of technology Arnold Pacey.

Read:

Micro Essay​: Let's see if we can identify some of the key elements of Pacey's definition of technology. Identify three or four key elements and briefly summarize them in your micro essay.

Think About: Let's see if we can think about how beginning from Pacey's account of technology might impact how we evaluate the intellectual technologies or smart technologies that were central to the Intelligence Squared debate.

Part Two: The Received View

We'll begin an examination of Slack and Wise's account of the received view of technology, with connections to the themes of progress, convenience, determinism, and control.

9/12 THURSDAY

Today's element of the received view: Progress

Read: Slack and Wise, Chapter 2, pages 13 - 31

Micro Essay: Watch Apple's famous Super Bowl Commercial, 1984, and analyze it from the standpoint of some of the themes raised in this chapter. How does this commercial suggest connections to the themes of progress, American culture, the digital sublime?

Think About: Be an active, critical reader as you make your way through this chapter. Think about the elements of our American story of progress. Can you identify some of the key elements of the American story of progress as Slack and Wise tell it?

9/17 TUESDAY

Let's think about convenience. Have you begun to notice how the themes of progress and convenience shape your own thinking about technology?

Read: Slack and Wise, Chapter 3, pages 33 - 47

Micro Essay: Let's challenge ourselves to identify an advertisement or advertising campaign for some piece of technology that reflects the themes of progress and/or convenience. Find an example (in print, in social media, on television) and briefly describe it and then reflect on how it deploys some of the themes we have been considering.

9/19 THURSDAY

How do the themes of progress and convenience impact domestic technologies? Today we'll read a selection from Judy Wajcman's Feminism Confronts Technology, who reminds us that we also have to think about the gendered dimension of technology.

Read: Judy Wajcman, "Domestic Technology: Labour-saving or Enslaving?" (Feel free to skip pages 91 - 95, the section on technological innovation and housework time, not especially relevant to our concerns.)

Micro Essay: What can we learn about technology and culture from Wajcman's discussion of domestic technology? See if you can identify three or four takeaways regarding technological culture from her discussion of this specific class of technology.

Think About: In this reading, Wajcman poses the question whether domestic technology is labor-saving or enslaving. How does she answer this question? Can you identify several key elements in her analysis.

9/24 TUESDAY

Debate #2: Have Dating Apps Killed Romance?​

Listen to/Watch: The Intelligence Squared Debate, making note of the various arguments offered for and against the motion "Dating Apps Have Killed Romance." Think about how the participants in this debate address the question of technology? Might we be able to apply some of our initial insights about technology to analyzing this debate? Does gender play a role in this debate over technology and dating apps?

This is your second opportunity to write a short essay. If you did not write one previously, you must write one of this debate in order to stay on track in the course. If you do not write a short essay, complete the micro essay.

Micro Essay: Who do you find yourself most agreeing with in this debate? Why?

9/26 THURSDAY

Does technology determine the human being? Is technology the driving force in society? Or are our technologies merely instruments we use or abuse? Slack and Wise investigate technological and cultural determinism.

Read:

  • Slack and Wise, Chapter 4, pages 49 - 58

Recommended Reading:​

Micro Essay: ​Briefly, what would a technological determinist and cultural determinist account of dating apps look like? Can you find any instances of either in the Intelligence Squared debate? I've posted the full transcript of the debate to our course Moodle site.

10/1 Tuesday

Who is in control: human or machine?

Read: Slack and Wise, Chapter 5, pages 59 - 73

Micro Essay:  As Slack and Wise discuss technology and control, they argue that to opt for either the claim that we are in control of technology or the claim that our technologies have control over us is futile. Why do they think it is futile? What does this tell us about their views of technology?

You might also be interested in this radio debate from 1939: "America's Town Hall Meeting of the Air: "Will the Machine Dominate Man?"

10/3 Thursday

Neil Postman often observed that technology was a double-edged sword. He's best known for his critique of television and its impact on American politics. He was also deeply concerned about the relationship of technology and culture. In these two chapters from Technopoly he discusses the transition from tool-using cultures to technocracies to technopoloies. Pay attention to how he describes these three stages. Postman claims that the United States is a technopology. Do you agree? We might wonder what his work implies about technological determinism and control.

Read: Neil Postman, Technopoly (selection)

Micro Essay: How would you characterize Postman's understanding of the relation of technology and culture? Given what we have read so far of Slack and Wise's account of technology and culture, how do you think they would evaluate Postman's account?

In case you're interested: All The Things You Never Even Knew You Wanted To Know About Neil Postman

Part Three: Two Responses to the Received View
10/8 Tuesday

Who were the Luddites and why are they relevant today? Those are the questions we seek to address in today's class.

Read:

Micro Essay: Ought we to embrace Glendinning's Neo-Luddite Manifesto? What do you think?

10/10 Thursday

What does the Unabomber have to do with technology? And why does Bill Joy find him so interesting?

Read:

Micro Essay: ​Bill Joy observes in his essay that: "The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge." Do you agree with him? Ought we to relinquish our pursuit of these technologies?

If you're interested in learning more about the Unabomber, digital culture, social media, and persuasion, the podcast The Stakes has an excellent three-part series on "A History of Persuasion."

10/17 Thursday

Debate #3: Video Games Will Make Us Smarter

Listen to/Watch: The Intelligence Squared Debate, making note of the various arguments offered for and against the motion "Video Games Will Make Us Smarter." Think about how the participants in this debate address the question of technology? Might we be able to apply some of our insights about technology to analyzing this debate? 

This is your third opportunity to write a short essay. If you do not write a short essay, complete the micro essay.

Micro Essay: Who do you find yourself most agreeing with in this debate? Why?

You might also be interested in reading "Are Digital Games Making Us Violent, or Will They Save the World," by T. V. Reed

Part Four: Cultural Studies on Technological Culture

10/22 Tuesday

Slack and Wise begin to suggest an alternative view of technology in terms of the key theoretical concepts of articulation and assemblage.

Read:

Micro Essay: Slack and Wise and Winner offer an alternative account of technology to the received view. For Slack and Wise it is in terms of flows, connections, articulations, assemblages. For Winner it is an analogous account of technologies as forms of life. Let's return to our debates over dating apps and video games and think about what an analysis of either dating apps or video games would look like from this alternative account of technology. Selecting to focus on either dating apps or video games, what would an account of the technology look like from this alternative perspective of technologies as forms of life?

10/24 Thursday

Privacy

Debate #4: Technology and Privacy

Listen to/Watch: The Intelligence Squared Debate, making note of the various arguments offered for and against the motion "Tech Companies Should Be Required To Help Law Enforcement Execute Search Warrants To Access Customer Data." Think about how the participants in this debate address the question of technology? Might we be able to apply some of our insights about technology to analyzing this debate? 

This is your fourth opportunity to write a short essay. If you do not write a short essay, complete the micro essay.

Micro Essay: Who do you find yourself most agreeing with in this debate? Why?

You might also be interested in checking out some of the many resources gathered by The New York Times for their Privacy Project. Slack and Wise identify privacy and surveillance as a key problematic of technological culture on pages 221 - 222).

10/29 Tuesday

Causality Beyond Determinism

Read: Slack and Wise, Chapter 10, pages 117 - 134

Micro Essay: I'll assign you to one of four groups and assign each of you to working on a presentation on one of the four structures for thinking about causality that Slack and Wise discussion. For your micro essay, briefly articulate the key elements of your assigned perspective on causality.

10/31 Thursday

Social Media and Democracy

Debate #5: Is Social Media Good for Democracy?

Listen to/Watch: The Intelligence Squared Debate, making note of the various arguments offered for and against the motion "Social media is good for democracy." Think about how the participants in this debate address the question of technology? Might we be able to apply some of our insights about technology to analyzing this debate? 

This is your fifth and final opportunity to write a short essay. If you do not write a short essay, complete the micro essay.

Micro Essay: Who do you find yourself most agreeing with in this debate? Why?

You might also be interested in reading T. V. Reed, "Tools for Democracy or Authoritarianism?"

11/5 Tuesday

Agency

Read: Slack and Wise, Chapter 11, pages 137 - 147

Micro Essay: Select the opening statement of one of our four debaters in "Social Media is good for democracy" and drawing on Slack and Wise's discussion of causality and agency, indicate how they would evaluate those opening comments.

11/7 Thursday

Technological Mediation: We'll take a deeper dive into the notion of mediation by familiarizing ourselves with the Dutch philosopher Peter-Paul Verbeek's account of technological mediation.

Watch: Explaining Technological Mediation

Read: Peter-Paul Verbeek, Moralizing Technology: On the Morality of Technological Artifacts and Their Design

Micro Essay: Let's see if we can identify some of the key elements of Verbeek's approach to technological mediation. Identify three or key elements (the principles, tools, concepts) of technological mediation. Be prepared to discuss how they might be useful to your position paper.

You might also be interested in:

11/12 Tuesday

​Articulation and Assemblage

Read: Slack and Wise, Chapter 12, pages 149 - 162

Micro Essay: Slack and Wise point out that to understand a technology as articulation is to draw attention to the practices, representations, experiences, and affects that constitute technology (p. 156). They present as an example surveillance technology (p. 153). Drawing on this model and focusing on your position paper, what elements do you need to map to one another in order to illustrate the nature of your technology?

11/14 Thursday

American Pragmatism and Technology

Read: Larry Hickman, "John Dewey as a Philosopher of Technology"

Micro Essay: Hickman describes John Dewey's account of philosophy as a tool for tuning up technology. What do you think Dewey meant by suggesting that philosophy is a tool for tuning up technology?

11/19 Tuesday

Technology, Politics, and Economics

For the next three class days, let's think about the connections between technology and politics.

Read: Slack and Wise, Chapter 13, pages 165 - 176

Micro Essay: Drawing on Slack and Wise's emphasis on the interconnections among technology, politics, and economics, how might their discussion influence or shape your work on your position paper? Can you identify several ways that their discussion of technology, politics, and economics is relevant to the issue or motion central to the position paper you are working on?

11/21 Thursday

Read: Langdon Winner, "Do Artifacts Have Politics"

Micro Essay:

You may also be interested in: Langdon Winner, "Techne and Politeia"

11/26 Tuesday

A Critical Theory of Technology

Read: Andrew Feenberg, "Critical Theory of Technology: An Overview"

Micro Essay: 

12/3 Tuesday

Technology and Identity

Read: Slack and Wise, Chapter 15, pages 197 - 213

Micro Essay:

12/5 Thursday

Read: Anne Balsamo, "On the Cutting Edge"

Micro Essay: 

12/10 Tuesday

Final Course Reflection Due Today

Office Hours:

MWF 12:00 - 1:00, T 2:00 - 3:30, and by appointment