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Culture and Technology

A Primer

Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. Macgregor Wise

From mobile phones to surveillance cameras, from fracking to genetically modified food, we live in an age of intense debate about technology’s place in our culture. Culture and Technology is an essential guide to that debate and its fascinating history. It is a primer for beginners and an invaluable resource for those deeply committed to understanding the new digital culture. The award-winning first edition (2005) has been comprehensively updated to incorporate new technologies and contemporary theories about them. Slack and Wise untangle and expose cultural assumptions that underlie our thinking about technology, stories so deeply held we often don’t recognize their influence. The book considers the perceived inevitability of technological progress, the role of control and convenience, and the very sense of what technology is. It considers resistance to dominant stories by Luddites, the Unabomber, and the alternative technology movement. Most important, it builds an alternative, cultural studies approach for engaging technological culture, one that considers politics, economics, space, time, identity, and change. After all, what we think and what we do make a difference.
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13. Politics and Economics

Extract

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Politics and Economics

ON THE FACE OF IT, THE ASSERTION THAT “technology is political and economic” seems neither controversial nor difficult to grasp. Prisons can be used to confine political prisoners; telephones can be used to raise political contributions; bombs can be dropped to win political advantage. Hence technologies are political in that they can be used for political ends. Computers can be sold to make a profit; self-service checkouts can be used to lay off workers and save money; factories can operate 24/7 to maximize economies of scale. Hence technologies are economic in that they can be used for economic ends.

But this typical way of thinking about politics and economics is an oversimplification, and ultimately deceptive in three ways. First, it tends toward a symptomatic causal understanding, which posits the technology as a separate, neutral (innocent) entity that can be used in this way, or not: as if a prison is not made to incarcerate undesirables; as if a bomb is not made to explode. We offered a critique of this symptomatic tendency in Chapter 10 (on causality). Second, in relation to the first point, this typical way of thinking assumes that one can isolate technology as an identity separate from politics and economics. Third, it separates politics and economics: as if economics were not also political, as if politics did not entail economics. This book’s fundamental critique of the tendency to consider technology and culture as...

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