Technology and advancement: the ‘saving power’

Concerning Educational Technology FAQ's

This paper is not really perhaps in line with the kind of Hegelian notion of perpetual advance signalled by the title of this research symposium: rather it is about examining the assumptions of our work in relation to this question of advancement. We assume, and it is deeply embedded in Western philosophy, that we are going somewhere, and that where we are going we will get to faster through work and research. In this paper I have written called I have tried to call this assumption into question by thinking about Heidegger’s paper on technology. – The Question Concerning Technology. There is a general assumption that technology is the harbinger of advancement, and moreover, that it is politically neutral. Heidegger wrote The Question Concerning Technology in the shadow of the A-bomb as it were, and he calls attention to the danger inherent in technology. At the same time he romanticizes forms of technology like bridges and roads which are products of the past. This produces a contradiction in his work which I have tried to examine.

At the same time, because technology is generally thought to be scientific, not political, there has been an endeavour on the part of some to reconceptualise political questions as technical questions which can be solved by working out objective answers. My position is that this is nothing more than an attempt to make certain political standpoints invisible – and pervasive – by concealing them as ‘science’ or technology.

What has this got to do with education? We are in a period when the pressure on us to use technology is intense: we are even under pressure to believe that the salvation of the country lies in the preparedness of educators both to use and to teach the use of technology. I think it behoves us to use caution; in our enthusiasm, we ignore some of the dangers inherent in this enthusiasm, especially for people whose language and cultures are already under threat from the aggressive imperialism of the English language.

Technology, I argue, cannot be divorced from power. We must recognise our own position in the exercise of this power.

Heidegger says, that when we ask the question concerning technology we invite two anwers: ‘Technology is a means to an end…Technology is a human activity’ (QCT p. 4).

In this paper I argue that these answers have a complex relation to each other. The idea that technology can be merely a means to an end is to make the claim that technology can be created in such a way that it is without history, without politics, without ethical implications, whereas technology as ‘a human activity’ is assumed to happen in a context which is political, social, ethically laden.

In privileging the first answer, we try to avoid the implications of the second. And, overwhelmingly the notions of technology circulating through politics and education have been of this first kind, a move which has the double advantage of providing an apparently politics-free answer to certain questions of funding, content, pedagogy, access, privilege, and at the same time answering political demands which have become embarrassing as to the relation between education and the economy, between the rhetoric of access and the reality of underemployment, between the expectations of social and economic inclusion and the experience of exclusion. The Knowledge Economy (Ernst and Young, 1999) for instance claims that ICT (Information and communication technologies) ‘releases people’s creative potential and knowledge’.

The promise of access, inclusion, and opportunity through technological means satisfies demands which are political in the broad sense of the pressure on politicians to provide for the well-being of citizens, political in the narrower sense of the electoral need to provide for the well-being of tax payers (by keeping down the public tax-funded costs of education), and economic in terms of the pressure on politicians to provide for the continued supply of appropriately educated labour for business.