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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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15. Identity


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THERE IS A SAYING IN RUSSIA that predates even the Soviet Union. A Russian is body, soul, and passport. That is, an important aspect of who one is, is a technology, in this case, a passport: a system of identifying and tracking citizens. David Lyon, the pre-eminent scholar of surveillance studies, updates this by saying: today, we are body, soul, and credit card.1

What these sayings are pointing to is the entanglement of identity and technology in technological culture, in this case the development of a second self, a shadow self made of data. Our data selves consist of all the dossiers, files, records, and reports kept on us by a dizzying array of public and private entities: government agencies in charge of voter and driver registrations and various licenses, not to mention passports; insurance companies; medical providers; marketing firms; credit reporting agencies; supermarkets (and, indeed, any business with a frequent shopper card); schools; Facebook and other social networking sites; your mobile phone company, and more. As these records have become digitized, they have also become increasingly interconnected, cross-referenced, and mined for what they may predict (for good or ill) about our future health, wealth, or lifestyle.

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