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Thoughts on Research Interests August 31, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5363, 5364, Kemp, Research Interests, Rickly, TCR, Writing.
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On the first day of school, I recited – many times – subjects that interest me as possible research topics. They include hypertext, social media, online communities, rhet. comp., writing instruction, and rhetoric of blogging.

While reading chapters one and three of Mary Sue MacNealy’s book Strategies for Empirical Research in Writing, two thoughts permeated my mind:

1) Race. Where are African Americans (or any minorities) within the technical communication realm? Are we there? And if so, where are we, and why do we choose to be there? If we’re not there, why not, and what can we do to bridge the cultural gap within TC? This thought, actually, has been twirling a bit in my mind for about a week now. Why, you might ask? It’s not odd in the least for me to walk into a classroom and be the only or one of a few African Americans in a classroom. It happened when I pursued my MA in mass comm., and it happened when I pursued my MA/MFA degrees. I’ve been told by professors and administrators that being African American and a woman would work for me in the fields that interest me because, unfortunately, there are not many of “me” out there in those fields. I’m new to TC, so I’m not sure what the cultural landscape looks like, but I’m interested in finding out.

2) High School Writing Instruction. In teaching freshman composition and remedial writing for the last eight years, I have bemoaned (to self) and commiserated with other teachers on the herculean tasks of college instructors and professors to reverse what 12 years of public education failed to do: educate students effectively on how to write. This is something that’s echoed in MacNealy’s book and also in Dr. Kemp’s 5364 notes on rhetoric, especially in regards to how institutions treat remedial writing (and its students).

For a while now, I have been worried about freshman composition and how we can use technology in order to prepare students better to be effective writers. And though I’m still on that track, I wonder if it’s just reinventing the wheel for failure because the question will still remain, “How can you teach students who are years behind in writing skills?” How do we make up what they should have learned before coming to college?

My ideas shifted toward looking at high school English (grades 9 – 12). Now, let’s remember I am VERY new to all of this, so I don’t know what’s already been done, if my ideas are played-out because five brilliant people already conducted research on them. I thought it might be interesting to look at high school English curriculum in the highest and lowest rated states educationally to see what’s being taught, how the teaching differs, how technology plays (or doesn’t play) a role, how much writing is being done, how writing assignments are evaluated…and on and on. Perhaps seeing the gap between the writing haves and have-nots and seeing what causes the gap can bring forth implementation of strategies to foster growth in writing.


Chapter 20 ~ “A Philosophical-Anthropological Perspective on Technology” by Arnold Gehlen August 31, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR.
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“…the necessity for technology derives man’s organ deficiencies.”

In the beginning of Arnold Gehlen’s article, Gehlen expresses the notion that to live, man needs to build an environment that is suitable for his survival. Because of this, technology becomes not only the tools used to build said environment, but also the skills needed to create the tools.

Using Kapp’s concept of “organ projection,” Gehlen moves next to illustrate how we then interpret the tools man uses; there are three types:

–Organic relief
–Organic substitution or replacement
–Organic strengthening or improvement.

Like others we’ve read for week one, Gehlen points to a shift that occurred in the 18th century between tools and man’s purpose in using said tools. Pre-18th century, tools were a means to an end. Post-18th century, tools become part of the building of an abstract reality for man.

This article does, like other readings before it, makes me think of human freedom and ethics. In discussing technological development to date, he uses a law formulated by Hermann Schmidt, in which Schmidt sees the “objectification of human” work as a process that passes through three phases that concludes with the intellectual contribution of the subject (man) being dispensed with by technological means.

Are we at a place where we no longer control technology?

If there’s still hope to control it and to find some form of moral ground to do so, how do we go about controlling it?

Are we truly free living in a technological world in which we seem to be spiraling with loose footing?

I don’t know.

Chapter 19 ~ “What is Technology” by Stephen J. Kline August 31, 2009

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Anything thing, action, process, method, and system can be slapped with the word “technology.” The term is even used symbolically for working procedures, and according to Stephen J. Kline, this kind of defining not only brings chaos to technology, but it also keeps us from three important views: 1) how we understand innovation, 2) how we can communicate across Snow’s culture gap, and 3) how we understand the way in which we humans make our living on the planet.

In order to define “technology,” Kline suggests we classify it into its usages and then label the usages so that we have a solid, common framework to begin discussions. In his classifying, Kline comes up with four usages:

1) Hardware (or Artifacts) – those things made by man and that do not occur naturally on earth

2) Sociotechnical System of Manufacture – those things (illustrated as a system), to include manufacturing equipment and people, used to manufacture a hardware (or artifact, like bicycles or blue jeans)

3) Information, Skills, Processes, and Procedures for Accomplishing Tasks – the knowledge, technique, know-how, or methodology

These first three represent what we commonly know as “technology”; however, the fourth usage is important in “understanding human implications of technology in ways intended by much public discussion.”

4) A Sociotechnical System of Use – these systems “form the basis of what we do with the hardware after we have manufactured it.” These systems, with the use of hardware and people, complete tasks that would be impossible for man to do without the system.

Without number 4, there would be no need to make hardware.

Thus, Kline argues that “sociotechnical systems of manufacture and sociotechnical systems of use form the physical bases of all human societies past and present.” This notion would seem to debunk those scholars, researches, etc. who pin these advancements on the “high-tech age.” For Kline, all of our existence has been a part of technology.

Chapter 18 ~ “Toward of Philosophy of Technology” by Hans Jonas August 31, 2009

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Through reading Jonas, there is no doubt that technology’s purpose has shifted from its earlier formation in which it was a possession and a state to its modern take as one of enterprise and process.

Everything about modern technology seems to be about more, now, progress. There is no “end.” According to Jonas, every new step, no matter the direction, lends itself to even more opportunities to explore.  There is no saturation point as in earlier technology. Every innovation spreads like wildfire through communities. There is no “means to an end” in and of itself because each “end” sparks opportunities for new means to be researched, created.

One line that in the piece that says a lot is “Technology adds to the very objectives of human desires.” All desires are not good. And as egotistical as man is, how do we wrangle in the desires so that we are not controlled by technology? If with this “restless technology”…”there can be indefinite progress because there is always something new and better to find,” how do we quantify “better”? How do we return to ethics and morality in regards to technology to stop the tide of “virtual infinity”?

Chapter 17 ~ “Technology and Ethics” by Kristin Shrader-Frechete August 31, 2009

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First paragraph of Shrader-Frechete’s work harkens back to Ellul’s thoughts of how “the men of classical antiquity could not have found a solution to our present determinisms, and it is useless to look into the works of Plato or Aristotle for an answer…” Because of technology, according to Shrader-Frechete, new ethical questions are raised. Those who look to answer these questions, however, must be well-versed in philosophy, technical skills, and economics because the answers will not only affect the technology but also society as a whole.  The philosophical issues that concern technology and ethics are not for the lighthearted. There are some technologies that are too new to evaluate, there are issues with how much risk is too much risk, how safe is safe enough, what threats do technology pose on due process, and who truly “consents” to the risk attributable to technological advances. Toward the end of the piece, Shrader-Frechete states that “those who claim that both workers and the public have given consent to technological risks” defend their beliefs by claiming “society’s acceptance of the economic benefits created by hazardous technologies constitutes implicit acceptance of the technologies.” Because I believe, like I think Shrader-Frechete does, that many individuals in society do not understand the sophisticated technologies or their risks, I found it hard to see how these same people who make up society would accept the economic benefits created by hazardous materials. Perhaps, as Ellul suggests, these people are not truly free because they do not understand the technological world in which they live.

Chapter 16 ~ “On the Aims of a Philosophy of Technology” by Jacques Ellul August 31, 2009

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In reading Ellul’s preface in the French edition of his book (1954) and the foreword in the revised American edition (1964), I can’t help but wonder what transpired in the decade because Ellul’s tone seems so fervent, so now in the ’64 foreword.  From the preface, to the note to the reader, to the foreword, you can see the evolution of Ellul’s defining of technique, his discussion on technology, but in the ’64 foreword, there is almost a defensive tone to his words, as if he’s truly trying to wake the reader up, to show him/her that this isn’t about professors and researchers, but about each individual taking the initiative to understand the technological phenomenon so that each person can determine for him or herself how to use it. Only then will an individual be truly free and not trapped within the technological confines. These comments also connect with Ellul’s thoughts on the importance of conducting research on this phenomenon. He won’t even dare to offer solutions because he himself doesn’t fully understand the magnitude of the problems that has and may befall society because of the technological phenomenon and before we as a society can begin to shout solutions, we need know what we’re dealing with and how it can and will potentially affect us.

Chapter 15 ~ “Philosophical Inputs and Outputs of Technology” by Mario Bunge August 31, 2009

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Because “technology is… a major organ of contemporary culture,” Bunge asserts that technology needs its own philosophy that is connected to, yet separate from the philosophy of science. In discussing the tasks of philosophy and technology, which includes exploring similarities and differences between technological knowledge and scientific knowledge; the influence of pragmatism on the theoretical richness of technology; and the value systems and ethical norms of technology, Bunge concludes that through the ideas of technology is where we must search for philosophy.

Bunge begins by breaking contemporary technology into four branches: material, social, conceptual, and general, and by stating a significant difference between science and technology; technology knows in order to elicit changes; whereas, science elicits changes in order to know. And it is in this knowing to elicit change, it is in this “knowing” that infuses itself into other realms of human existence – art, science, mathematics, and humanities for example – that makes technology worthy of having its own philosophy.

As such, it also makes it imperative that we examine ethical issues within technology and look to develop ethical codes, both individually and for society.