The eight readings featured in this site have numerous themes in common the two most important of which are education and technology. Providing a curious and complex link between these two is a third theme - that of change.
Authors Perelman, Papert and Negroponte adopt a proactive, positive view of change. Perelman advocates increased use of technology in order to force draconian changes to the current education system. Like Perelman, author Papert argues for changes in our approach to learning and teaching through use of computers in schools. Negroponte enthusiastically presents a utopic vision of a brave new world and promising future that can be realized by encouraging and welcoming technological developments.
Sharply contrasting with this perspective is the more apocalyptic view of authors Postman and Birkerts who argue that technology brings about and imposes unwanted, unnecessary and threatening changes to our way of life. Technology is portrayed as a dehumanizing and controling force that must be monitored, curtailed and limited. For these two authors, technology is an autonomous intruder who has its own self-serving ends and who must be approached with caution.
Norman and Laurel present a perspective on technology that departs from both the utopic and apocalyptic views. The design of machines and particularly of computers provides the focal point for their writings. Both writers recognize the power of computers while at the same time argue that they must be designed in such a way as to empower their users.
Authors Perelman, Papert, Postman, Negroponte have in common a deterministic view of technology-i.e. that technology can or does provoke change. Whether or not the authors encourage this change or see it as positive or negative is where they differ. All seven authors have in common a sincerity and earnestness of tone which is often moralistic and emotional. As such, technology, education and change are three themes which, at least for these writers, provoke strong personal reactions.
The different reactions of these authors likely provide a sampling of many people's perspective on technology. While many are anxious to embrace it and see in it the promise of a better future, others no doubt consider technological change as a threat to the institutions and lifestyles with which they have become comfortable.
Past and present trends indicate that machines and computers are not something we simply can rid ourselves of. On the contrary, it would appear that use of computers and intelligent machines will become more widespread. Therefore, as a society, we
do have a vested interest in
learning to live with it and to come to terms with some of the more negative emotions that technology appears to generate for many.
The approach of Laurel and Norman may provide a common ground for reconciliation of the utopic and apocalyptic perspectives. As we continue to design and develop new technologies, we can focus more on issues related to human-machine interaction. Interdisciplinary, collaborative work and research by social scientists, engineers and designers can consider approaches to machine design that focus more on human factors.
For those individuals who, like Perelman and Papert, have an
interest in promoting greater use of computers and technology in schools, it is essential that they be able to dispell or alleviate concerns and fears related to computers and machines. Effectiveness in bringing about change in schools through use of technology may be far more a function of people's personal reactions and feelings than it is a function of the technology itself.
Education, technology and change are inextricably linked, not only as themes for the authors featured in this site, but for society in general. And, as these authors have perhaps unwittingly shown us, the three themes are not simply abstract concepts, rather they are themes that affect us, and to which we react, in a very personal and complex manner.
Creating more empowering machines and focusing more on human-computer interaction in the design process may lead to more acceptance both of technology and of the changes that often accompany it. At the same time, on a personal level, we can all strive to improve our awareness and understanding of these related themes, how we respond to them and why. It is hoped that the summaries, discussions and links in this site will provide a small resource to aid in this awareness and understanding.
This site was created by Elizabeth Murphy