Langdon Winner, asks, in the title of his influential book chapter, “Do artifacts have politics?” In other words, are technologies neutral? He suggests in response: “What matters is not technology itself, but the social or economic system in which it is embedded” (1986, p.1).
How true is this, in your experience, and through studying this unit?
This is an accurate statement. As illustrated by Nguyen (2007), “An invention, however needed it is, might not be accepted if it does not operate in a way consistent with established social norms” (para. 7). Nguyen uses the example of the expected success of ‘Videotex’, which operated by sending text and graphics via telephony to users’ modems (para. 52). Upon further analysis of this case study, and despite its initial appeal to online news services, it is apparent that the consideration given to the social environment of the customer base was inadequate. Videotex was unaffordable, un-user-friendly and annoyingly slow (para. 61).
Furthermore, as the majority of media organisations function as business “…enterprises devoted to making profit” (para. 8), success with the use of Videotex did not transpire. One exception to this occurred in France, as its ‘Minitel’ service managed to concentrate on “…interpersonal exchange…”, rather than remain completely focused on the idea of Videotex providing a news service (para. 62).
Speaking from personal experience, I have seen online services come and go over the years. Some of these were worthwhile services for the technology at the time, but users quickly abandoned products like Ning and Kazoo as they tried to shift from free to subscription-based services. (FYI – Ning can be considered as the predecessor to Yammer, and Kazoo raised a few eyebrows in the early 2000s as a spiffy-looking visualisation search engine.)
The social and economic environments in which users are positioned are pertinent to this discussion. For example, having progressed from using free services like Napster and Kazaa in my teens for downloading and sharing music, I now happily pay for music in iTunes and similar fee-based services. I am now in a job with a salary and can afford to make such purchases whereas, in my teens, I had less options to accomplish this legally.
However, with the advent of such streaming options, and the demise of the iPod, technology is evolving to meet the needs of the consumer to increase revenue. It will be interesting to witness who wins the battle of the devices in current social and economic climates. As an Apple user, I have to admit that I’ll be seriously considering Samsung options when the time comes to upgrade.
Nguyen, A. (2007, March 5). The interaction between technologies and society: Lessons learnt from 160 evolutionary years of online news services. First Monday. Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1627/1542