Introduction Breaking with the Past
John R. Dakers
In this companion edition to my first book, Defining Technological Literacy: Towards an Epistemological Framework, now published as a significantly revised second edition, I have brought together several new thinkers, each of whom makes an important contribution to the concept of technological literacy. The title of this book, New Frontiers in Technological Literacy, suggests a move into hitherto uncharted territory in terms of thinking related to technological literacy. The subtitle Breaking with the Past indicates a move away from traditional arguments about how technological literacy might be incorporated into extant technology education classroom practices. I make no apology for my views on this; it cannot be done, it has not been done, it will not be done. The incorporation of the concept of technological literacy into the prevailing model of technology education is akin to realizing the truly admirable plea made by C.P. Snow in his seminal book The Two Cultures, first published in 1959 (Snow, 2001). Snow postulates that society is split into two cultures; one related to the sciences and one related to the humanities. This dichotomy was, for Snow, resolvable. However, the passing of time has served to indicate otherwise: science and the humanities continue to act as two distinct cultures. I believe that technology education had its genesis, and continues to align itself strongly with, the scientific culture of positivism. Technology education openly associates itself with engineers and engineering. As Feenberg elucidates, “Once the object is stabilized, the engineer has the last word on its nature, and the humanist interpreter is out of luck. This is the view of most engineers and managers; they readily grasp the concept of ‘goal’ but they have no place for ‘meaning’” (Feenberg, 1995: 9).
The concept of technological literacy, on the other hand—a relatively new paradigm in technology education—sits more comfortably within the humanities. The growing body of research and philosophical discourse
J.R. Dakers (ed.), New Frontiers in Technological Literacy © John R. Dakers 2014
relating to technological literacy tends to situate it around issues specific to the social aspects of technology: the impact that technology has on human beings and the human-technology interface.
This reenactment of Snow’s dilemma as realized in the form of technology education is, in my view, no more resolvable now that it was then. If we want to promote a form of technological literacy, especially in human terms, we need to consider a new way to think about technology. Carl Mitcham elucidates a “critical dimension” in the foreword to this book, one that we must come to recognize will change the way we consider, design, and interface with technology. In so doing, we must correspondingly critique how this will change the environment we share and change our way of communicating with that environment, as well as with each other. The future, in this sense, is subject to multiple possible technologically textured trajectories, all of which can continue to be shaped by the few in power or by initiating change, by becoming critical, by becoming technologically literate.
Becoming technologically literate is, in my view, too important to be sidelined and marginalized in education, in terms of both today and the future. The contributions that follow in this book offer some insightful arguments relating to the concept of technological literacy, all discussed from a diverse range of overlapping perspectives.
The book first sets out to examine the very concept of technological literacy. In my own chapter, “Technological Literacy as a Creative Process of Becoming Other,” I offer a new pedagogy: a pedagogy that considers a completely new way of enabling the development of technological literacy. I call this pedagogy “speculative multidimensional time line thinking.” Drawing heavily on the work of Deleuze and Guattari, I attempt to make a case for becoming technologically literate—not “being” technologically literate, or finally becoming technology literate, as these scenarios denote a telos, a final end state: that of being technologically literate. I argue that due to the complexity of the technologically textured world we inhabit, a world that is emergent and in a constant state of change, the concept of technological literacy can only ever be expressed in terms of an ongoing process.
In this sense, the concept of a technological world considered as being essential, fixed, and enduring, a technological world that we tend to adopt as received, must be flawed. Instead, I suggest an alternative way to consider the technological world in terms of change: one that considers technology historically as well as having potentially variable alternative historical pathways that regard technology as having multiple capacities, hidden as well as known. By so doing, we can perceive the technological world in a nonlinear way, full of possible pasts, presents, and futures. In this way, a form of speculative technological literacy can be conceived that will enable us to consider the world from different perspectives.
Stephen Petrina, in his chapter “Postliterate Machineries,” deconstructs the concept of literacy from both a historical perspective and a technoscientific conception of literacy. Also drawing heavily on the works of Deleuze and Guattari, he links technology to literacy by way of machineries and then to the concept of postliterate machineries. In so doing, he enquires whether, in a postliterate world, we still need literacies. Indeed, he questions the very idea of the concept of postliteracy. But as his enquiry expands, it becomes evident that he regards this question as too simplistic. The world today is extremely complex, and the future cannot be known. It becomes clear for Petrina that we need to go beyond the grounded, stable definitions of literacy that prevail today. We need to reconceptualize the concept of literacy technologies as well as technological literacies. To do this, we need to be creative and to experiment by exploring unknown pathways leading to unknown potentials in terms of literacy.
Molly Watson is a 15-year-old school student who offers a chapter titled “Technology and Technology Education: Perspectives from a Young Person.” There are many academic books devoted to various aspects of research into education and technology, virtually all of which are written by adult academics. These books consider many divergent perspectives on education and technology. Many result from empirical investigations that do listen to young peoples’ voices. This chapter is different in that I asked Watson, someone I know, if she would be interested in writing a chapter based on her perspective of technology. She was very keen to engage with this project. Sometime later, she produced about two thousand words on how she, and some of her friends, constituted technology. I then asked her to write some additional material relating to what she thought technology education was. It becomes very apparent in her chapter that, at least from her perspective, there is a significant, if not an overwhelming, dislocation between her perceptions of technology and the school subjects she thinks represent that genre.
Watson offers a balanced view on technology. She clearly sees benefits and also highlights some serious concerns relating to technology. She offers a useful insight into the social aspects related to technology. Technology is not some neutral artifact that exists separately from humans, “because when you think about it, what is technology without the people that use it?” In terms of technology education, she indicates a view that suggests a bias toward a pedagogy of prescription, a pedagogy predicated on the transmission of already given “facts,” a pedagogy of essentialism: “There is too much focus in the current technology curriculum on following orders. Most young people I know do not want this. And perhaps the reason why many teenagers dislike school is because they are not given sufficient opportunities to express themselves, and they are not presented with things that they feel are relevant. And if something is relevant, they are not always told why it is relevant.” This chapter endorses much of the thinking expressed in the other chapters in this book.
By considering “Technological Literacy and Digital Democracy: A Relationship Grounded in Technology Education,” P. John Williams looks at affects related to globalization. He suggests that technology education during colonial times was antidemocratic and had a bias toward the Western conception espoused by the colonizers. This meant that any form of technological literacy taught was equally biased and often inappropriate for indigenous populations.
Moreover, he goes on to highlight that, as a result of globalization, a universal curriculum has emerged that is ignorant of local values. Williams uses this dichotomy to explore and critique the delivery of technology in several countries around the world. He then considers the impact that new and emerging digital technologies are having on technology and technology education, particularly in relation to issues relating to democracy. He concludes that technological literacy must aspire toward the formation of “fully developed digital citizens who are able to interpret, critique, navigate, and shape the landscape of virtual democracy.”
Mary Kirk raises several important issues relating to gender in technology. The title of her chapter is very revealing: “Reenvisioning Our Knowledge Tradition: From Gender Blind to GenderAware.” She asserts that the way that we have learned to think about technology is related to our assumptions about gender. Technology is not gender neutral, as we tend to think, but is gender blind.
Kirk outlines the stereotypical gender-assigned assumptions we hold and demonstrates the way in which these assumptions form strong boundaries that influence our conceptions about technology. This dualistic way of categorization has, over the course of history, offered a male-centric view of technology and science. However, Kirk demonstrates the contributions to the fields of technology and science that have been made by what she refers to as the “invisible women of science and technology.” She concludes that “gender blindness” in technoscientific thought continues to remain stubbornly encoded in our knowledge tradition. She asserts that a consideration of the history of women’s contributions to technology and scientific disciplines, which should form part of becoming technologically literate, may help to change the imbalance that continues to prevail.
Leo Elshof offers an incisive critique of the sustainability crisis that is threatening the planet in his chapter “Eco-Technological Literacy for Resiliency.” He highlights issues that indicate the rise of indifference in relation to the way we treat our planet, the consequences of which indicate that we are actually living beyond the biocapacity of the planet.
In an attempt to elucidate an understanding of this crisis, he deconstructs the relationship between consumption, neoliberal capitalism, and globalization. As a way forward, Elshof suggests that technological literacy should involve aspects relating to eco-technological literacy. This, he suggests, will offer students a way to develop a more mindful connection with our technological creations. However, he sees this not as a return to the old craft- orientated systems of education that still prevail as the dominant orthodoxy in technology education today but rather suggests that technological literacy and ecotechnological literacy should be about innovation, collaboration, and connectivity.
The debates concerning technological literacy tend be dominated by Western culture. In her chapter, Nan Wang offers “A Chinese Perspective on Technological Literacy.” In a fascinating account, Wang illustrates that China “manifests a more positive appreciation of technology than is often the case in the developed world.” This, she asserts, is largely due to technology being considered as a way to both reduce the burden of human labor and increase human productivity. However, the rise of technological development in China is a relatively new phenomenon, and as such, the negative aspects regarding technological development that are debated in Western cultures are only beginning to emerge in China.
In terms of literacy, Wang outlines the significant cultural influences that form around Chinese thinking about technology. These influences offer an insight into the dualistic way a culture might be affected by technological development, as well as how that culture will itself affect technological development.
David Barlex offers a critique of the policies, politics, and delivery of design and technology education in England and Wales in his chapter “Enabling Both Reflection and Action: A Challenge Facing Technology Education.” There will be many common attributes that are recognizable in many other countries around the world to the perspective offered by Barlex. Technology education for Barlex is more than learning the various techniques associated with technology. It has the power to develop the imagination to create new worlds. This can only be made possible if the pedagogical framework for technology education allows for both action and reflection. This, Barlex argues, constitutes a form of technological literacy.
Barlex explores several initiatives that he has been involved with over the years: initiatives that enable the kind of pedagogy discussed. He goes on to describe the research and development that occurred as a result of these various initiatives, as well as the developments that were adopted in practice. However, he also highlights the political dimensions that serve to enable, or indeed to block, the ongoing development of projects that can only be considered as progressive. Moreover, and perhaps disturbingly, Barlex implies that the subject known as design and technology in England and Wales—a subject that has been at the forefront of technology around the world—appears uncertain.
Andoni Alonso introduces the concept of cyberliteracy in his chapter “From Cybereducation to Cyberactivism: Can Cyberliteracy Transform the Public Sphere?” Not unlike Williams earlier, Alonso questions whether Information and Communication Technology can liberate access to education, thus democratizing education in ways never before achievable or even conceivable. He illustrates the impact that electronic media have on education and goes on to problematize several of the unforeseen impacts that have emerged as a result of this new form of learning. Areas such as cyberscience and cyberactivism are considered in some detail as ways to illustrate the threat that “the colonizing interests of private profit generating commerce” are having on the liberation of education and therefore democracy.
The chapter by Jamie Wallace and Cathrine Hasse moves the concept of technological literacy into work-based environments. In “Situating Technological Literacy in the Workplace,” Wallace and Hasse argue that any understanding of what constitutes technological literacy remains tethered to formal systems of education. Their chapter investigates the concept of technological literacy in terms of workplace environments. This moves the debate from an essentially theoretical perspective to one that is situated—one that is very much context dependent. Hospitals and schools form the basis of their empirically driven enquiry.
Significantly, they report that technology, as made available in the workplace, is not something fixed that workers can simply learn and use or that enables greater efficiency in the workplace. Rather, they argue that technology “exists in relation to the unfolding consequences of processes and ways of thinking and organizing mutually constituted between social and technological worlds.” In this respect, it becomes evident that the use of technologies in the workplace exceeds the primary functions ascribed to them. It becomes clear that they also have economic, political, and ethical dimensions and that this has implications for workers. Wallace and Hasse argue that technological literacy enables workers to develop “the capacity for learning from everyday entanglements within the constant reconfigurations of both practice and technology without losing sight of the motive for practice itself.”
Finally, Silja Samerski in her chapter titled “Genetic Literacy: Scientific Input as a Precondition for Personal Judgment?” provides a revealing discussion centered on the concept of genetics, highlighting how experts appear to purposely avoid any opportunity for a wider dialogue with nonexperts. Genetic literacy thus appears to be supercilious to nonexperts. The author then questions such superciliousness and makes a demand for a more enlightened engagement regarding communications in the technoscientific discourse.
These chapters combine to offer multiple perspectives on the concept of technological literacy. It is not necessary to read them in any given order. The chapters offer alternative perspectives that are situated in some context, whether in the actual technologically textured world of school, work, or culture; the virtual world of cyberspace; the sociopolitical world of gender or the environment; the philosophical world; or the world as experienced by a young person. Whatever the context, these overlapping perspectives merge, not just as presented in this book, but with the philosophical, political, socioeconomic, and many other perspectives that have been expressed in the past. Moreover, these perspectives will continue to merge with the readers of this book, who will agree with, disagree with, and hopefully reconstitute the thoughts expressed in new and interesting ways for the future. I welcome this ongoing process.
Feenberg, A. (1995). Subversive rationalization: Technology, power, and democracy. In Andrew Feenberg &Alistair Hannay (Eds.), Technology and the politics of knowledge (pp. 3-22). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Snow, C.P. (2001 ). The two cultures. London, UK: Cambridge University Press.