Constructing the problem

Concerning Educational Technology FAQ's

Technology after all does not come from nowhere: it is a tangible answer to a problem, but it is at the level of the conception of the problem that the political intervenes (Peters and Marshall, 1993): the problem as Grey saw it, was the intractable nature of the Kingitanga movement, the answer lay in the technology of war. I hypothesise that the problem to the German princeling or mayor who instigated the bridge was lack of control over the people on the other side of the river, or perhaps lack of access to their resources. The assumptions concerning self-interest, the relative costs of labour in the production of goods, the need to dominate materially or militarily lie behind most Western technology. Social consequences are often unforeseen and unplanned: teenage texting, cybersex, the development of career possibilities for women as typists are not the motivating problems which caused the development of the mobile phone, the Internet or the typewriter.

I do not argue that technology has, by definition to be concerned with domination or profit (although it is difficult to imagine technology now coming to fruition without some sort of healthy profit in mind for the investors and producers). It seems to me to be at least theoretically possible that technology could be the answer to problems which are located in different questions: the Samoan umu which encourages the production of large amounts of food, to be consumed by large numbers of people is for instance a technological response to a question differently posed: the question of preparing and consuming large, often unpredictable, harvests of fish and crops in a way which supports the power of chiefs and the relations between members of tribes, and which contribute to the positioning of tribes in relation to each other. The importance of social relations, not profit is embedded in the question, the problem, to which the technology provides the answer.

If there are hidden, obscured questions about power lurking behind the enthusiasm for various technologies, the urge to ‘unconceal’ those questions may be what Heidegger means by ‘enframing..that gathers together into the revealing that challenges forth’ (p.31). For to question, to unconceal these hidden assumptions, is to run serious risk in a political context in which so much is invested in the notion that technology is itself the saving power .