Technological determinism is a theory about how tech influences our lives. Basically, does tech determine how we live or do we shape tech? This has implications for workplace learning and training. Theory informs practice and practice ratifies theory, thus, we must set out intentions correctly when employing technology and ask if it is ultimately for the greater good.
Etymology: The word technology comes from two Greek words, transliterated techne and logos. Techne means art, skill, craft, or the way, manner, or means by which a thing is gained. (web.engr.oregonstate.edu/~funkk/Technology/technology.html).
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that our language influences our thinking. Edward Sapir, in brief, stated symbols we communicate (language) come about from concepts we form and categorize into our symbol library. Our library structure is similar to others library structure and is derived from our experience. Thus, language is formed from our worldview. So YES, it matters what words we use when communicating because we are literally painting a picture of a piece of the world for someone.
Benjamin Lee Whorf, although on the same vein of thinking, hypothesized that the mind and a stream of consciousness derived from the worldview drive language use and formation, which explains why different cultures have ancient words for describing ways of being much different from English per se. (Carnes, R. A perceptual model of the Whorfian thesis. A Review of General Semantics. 71.3 (July 2014) p.263)
Dystopia or Utopia?
Internet use itself has conflicting views. A dystopian view would see the internet as divisive and contribute to declining our face-to-face interaction and all the social health variable that go with it. In the utopian view, the internet can level the playing field and foster input and participation and create communities of interest. Somewhere we play in both views.
The social construction of technology (SCOT) states that the group or the social setting determines the technological output. Here, the media creates mass communication and technology is a medium for mass output. It is hard to argue if a technology is ever neutral. The Actor-Network theory is composed of all the elements of people and objects. We interact with the objects and they interact with us producing the results. For example, an escalator produces a quicker rise than if walking alone, or not if we decide to not step as usual. In the Actor-Network view, artifacts and objects can reflect social issues, politics and other intentions as to their access and design.
Critical theory starts with history and background and the power structures that underpin technology and its development. In this critical view, we examine technology as to what it helps us to do and where it hinders us.
Marshall McLuhan thought that everything we are striving for, perhaps on an unconscious level (in which case we can start referencing Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud), is the creation of artifacts in our own image. By looking at our creating process, we essentially are stretching ourselves and our senses using technology. The internet is simply a copper wire and radio version of sharing our thoughts, nearing a sort of extra-sensory perception. Automobiles are our legs, cameras our eyes, etc. If extending ourselves into this world is an innate driver for our behavior, we might design training and workplace functions with the idea that the worker, as an actor within a shared network, is something to be stretched in terms of knowledge, mobility, and sensory reach.
Bringing theories together we can examine learning and technology. We can look at people as ‘actors’ and examine people as nodes within networks. Technology as an ‘actor’ must have affordances in benefits to bettering work. We must decide WHEN to use technology and if it factors into the greater good or if it creates inequality. More on Learning to come…