Posts Tagged ‘usefulness’

Technology as a Tool and a System… and my Grandparents

April 14, 2009

“Metaphors matter. People who see technology as a tool see themselves controlling it. People who see technology as a system see themselves caught up inside it. We see technology as part of an ecology, surrounded by a dense network of relationships in local environments. Each of these metaphors is “right,” in some sense; each captures some important characteristics of technology in society. Each suggests different possibilities for action and change (Nardi, O’Day 27).”

In Nardi and O’Day’s discussion of technology as a tool, text, system and ecology, this paragraph sums up some of the major points that are made throughout the essay. From a post-humanist standpoint, I can understand the metaphor of technology as a tool in that when people embrace a technology and find use in it, they view it in a context where they are in complete control of it. This is true for those who maintain technological literacy and are keen to adapt to new technologies as they become available. When one falls behind in technological literacy or maintains an overly humanist viewpoint, they are no longer riding the crest of the wave so-to-speak. Instead of being on the forefront of new technologies, they may find themselves swept up in the technology, befuddled and lost.
This metaphor of technology as a system, where one is caught up inside and enveloped by it is useful in terms of the stigma usually attached to the word, “system.” Systems generally represent overarching, complex networks, where one is more of a cog within or an observer than an actual, aware participator. When technology fails to be a tool to an individual, it isn’t that it lacks usefulness. It’s more of a conscious transition where when one fails to understand how to use a technology or fails to see its relevance, it merely falls into the background of our daily lives. To these people, certain technologies were never tools. Said technologies may not be applicable in daily life, therefore we ignore their existence and depending on the breadth of the technology (the internet for example), we may find it entering our daily lives against our will, without any way to assume control over it. This can happen not only because  we lack understanding of it, but because we can’t find usefulness or relevance within it.
I’ve seen this happen with my grandparents over the years as the computer pervaded nearly every chasm of society and my grandma was left in the dark, while my grandpa embraced it. My Grandpa worked as a construction estimator for most of his adult life and still dabbles in estimating even today. Since the 80’s, he has been working with and alongside computers. For accurate calculations, computers were abound with usefulness. When email and the Internet came about, he was able to stay on the forefront of modern technology and communicate with co-workers, contractors and suppliers. In every sense of the word, computers have been a tool to my grandpa.
My grandma on the other hand had no need for technology. She stopped working after having 2 children in the late 60’s and decided to become a stay-at-home mom. With no real need for computer technology, she refused to become a participator and instead let the technology seep into her daily life with no control exerted over it. During the .com boom of the late nineties, she was left baffled by the sheer volume of Internet-related TV commercials. Although she understood the use of these websites, they lacked any relevance to her life. Her main connection to computers was through my grandpa, who would occasionally print out recipes at her request from the Internet and bring them home to her. And so, computer technology fell into her background and became nothing more than a complex system that surrounded her, bearing no relevance in her daily life. It became nothing more than a confusing background novelty—far from a tool.

Has anybody had any similar experiences with relatives who either absolutely embraced a new technology or who have completely stayed in the dark with them?