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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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16. Critical Conjunctures

Extract

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Critical Conjunctures

SOMETIMES SCIENCE FICTION HAS THE CAPACITY to engage interest in technological culture more effectively than books such as this one. Science fiction has the benefit of being articulated to entertainment, disarticulated from any obligation to truth, but articulated historically to the reputation of prescience. We still use novels such as Frankenstein and 1984 and films such as Blade Runner, The Terminator, and The Matrix to look for insight in navigating the present. Each of these works articulated the culture of its present in significant ways, and like good science fiction often does, each still speaks to aspects of both contemporary technological culture and possible futures.

M. T. Anderson’s Feed provides one such a vision for our time, a vision that has proven quite useful in provoking thought and discussion in our classes.1 This 2002 young adult science fiction novel resonates in instructive ways with the challenges we face. Set in the far off future, mobile social media devices are embedded in the heads of most children at birth, so that phoning, texting, blogging, searching, and streaming music or video occurs directly in their heads. Almost everyone is in constant contact with their friends but also in constant contact with a feed that monitors thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and responds accordingly. The feed sends out targeted advertising (it whispers in your head about sales of your favorite pants, or of the pants you just glanced at in the...

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