Philip Baron’s Paper Proposal

A conversation with my friend technology: A challenge to the status quo

A simple way to determine what is important to people is to investigate where they are spending their time. If a person spends a lot of time with their child, cares for him, plays with him, loves him, it is clear that they have an authentic connection. Is the same true regarding technology? Do we spend a considerable time relating to our technological devices, playing with them, thinking about them and desiring them? How do we respond when we cannot use our favourite electronic gadget? Our relationship with technology mirrors several characteristics of our human relationships. A reflection on one’s life may provide a shock as to how much technology has become a full member in our human family. One area of interest is in information and communications technology (ICT). Our communication methods have changed and are changing as advances in technology allow us new ways of expressing ourselves, while also reducing traditional communication methods. We have been warned of the dangers of complete reliance on technology by Heidegger some time ago.
Heidegger stated (1977):
Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology. P.4
It is true that some thought of him as a Luddite, however philosophers often have insight into future happenings; thus, it is worthwhile hearing Heidegger’s call for awareness. The reason is summarised by Merold Westphal (2004:24) where he says: “technology threatens to become the only thinking, to become the sole criterion by which we operate”. He further states that the great thinkers of the past were philosophers and theologians, while the great minds of today are engineers and entrepreneurs. In terms of ICT this raises a few important questions. Are our technology based communication methods decided upon by engineers and programmers? Are our ICT devices a form of interruption? Can technology be taught listening skills, or social skills? Can our ICT become a full member of our conversations?

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25 Responses to Philip Baron’s Paper Proposal

  1. Larry Richards says:

    1. No, the metaphor is not defensible.
    2. Yes, many of us
    3. No, technology is better thought an extension of ourselves.
    4. Withdrawal, which we must guard against
    5. If we let them; let’s not.
    6. No, but we can hold conversation with society through technology; it will involve humans, although not necessarily be human-like.
    7. I hope not.
    8. Without face-to-face conversation, “I” would not exist.
    9. Give access to everyone.
    10. By listening

  2. Philip Baron says:

    Hi Larry, thanks for your list of comments.

    1. Lets test the metaphor, is it happening in the world? Two extreme examples
    in the news:
    S Korea child starves as parents raise virtual baby (

    Parents Neglect Starved Babies to Feed Video Game Addiction

    3. (6) I agree. But doesn’t the following sometimes occur: A person is conversing in cyberspace and is excited by a response they just received, whether it was automatic algorithm generated or manually composed by another human the receiver’s reaction may be the same.

    Another example, two people on a dating website, person “A” and person “B”. “A” may portray a certain image that is untrue while “B” has no idea and has an authentic response to “A” believing “A” to be real and not an act/con. The emotional response of “B” may be unrelated to the true nature of “A”. Thus, if technology responds in a way that is what “B” wants/likes, “B” could experience an enjoyable interaction/relationship.
    A basis for software design that presents features that we like to use.

    8. Exactly. Thank you

    9 & 10. Communication using technology is like most other communication, it is a language that needs to be learned. This language changes rapidly as opposed to English, French etc.
    I have been trying to teach my mother how to use a computer and send email etc… my mother is very good at listening, but how can she hear what she does not understand. Eventually, a lack of technical understanding hinders survival in the modern world.

    • Bob Helland says:


      Regards to your mother (9&10), and others of a similar technology-aptitude, as you say unlike French and English and other written/verbal languages, technology-assisted communication has minimal authorities and a higher-capacity for listening to its users.

      Authorities: While Merriam-Webster adds a couple hundred (thousand?) words per year… we see the rate at which Twitter and instant messaging has warped English (written) language into something that would be considered incoherent 10 years ago. The internet is swamped with hybrid languages and moderators (the minimal authorities) that cannot keep up with the rate of evolution of this communication.

      Listening capability: Along with intuitive touch-screen interfaces and voice commands (for smartphones et al), tech developers have learned not to tell users how to interact with the technology. Consider the success story that is Nintendo Wii… as MS Xbox and Sony Playstation have repeatedly attempted to outmaneuver the other with faster processing, more visually striking graphics, and more elaborate controllers with complex “moves”, the Wii made a dominant entrance into the game market by listening to human users: “Why would I hit (X+Up+X+Down+right joystick) to swing a golf club when I can well…. swing a golf club?” Brilliant!)

      I guess my questions is, does your mother even need to listen and learn the technology when the technology will listen and learn your mother?

      Not saying its right or wrong, that just appears to be the direction it’s heading. Lots of excellent comments from everybody, thanks for setting the ball a-roll!


  3. Larry Richards says:

    1. Yes, but that they occur doesn’t make them defensible (i.e., desirable); it is our responsiblity to raise awareness; how to do this on a global scale is indeed a challenge.
    3. I think the problem is with the words “believe” and “belief”. If I “believe” what I read, I begin to anthropomorphize. My “believing” is under my control and is therefore my responsibility. I propose suspending the idea of “belief” (or “dislelief”) in the sense of accepting what I read as true (or not true). I may accept something I read temporarily if I find it useful or desirable; I don’t have to “believe” it. I find one of the most insidious difficulties with technology (and society) to be in the blind acceptance of what commercial entities tell us should be our desires. Raising the level of awareness of our desires and of the importance of questioning continuously those desires is a task that technology could help facilitate on a global basis, if only we could raise awarenes of that possibility and its desirability (rather than leaving it to commercial interests).
    9. We thinks that what we does online is conversation, whereas it is merely communication.
    10. It is we (the technologically saavy) who must listen to your mother, not the other way around. As you say, she is already good at it. I want a society that recognizes that; I would agree that this one doesn’t.

  4. Johann van der Merwe says:

    Our beliefs and what we “believe” are to a great extent the same thing, with belief the stronger background social knowledge / know-how, and our everyday “believing processes” (making decisions)having to correlate with our dearly-held so-called beliefs.
    This clash between the beliefs you have grown up with and the new stuff you learn at university (e.g., in the case of a student and new knowledge / leading to possible “new beliefs”)is called cognitive dissonance …

    Now what happens with students (who have grown up with “technological beliefs”) who “believe” something, and this fact emerges in your conversation … it is very difficult to make them believe(!) that what they ‘believe’ is the case is rather based on ‘belief’ (based on technology and not culture or even human use of … and somethimes close to created myth) and not “real fact” …

  5. Philip Baron says:

    3. Belief: After much thought i feel that deep belief is almost “unthought” or automated thought, meaning it is the stuff we don’t need to think about or question for too long. For example, if someone tries to harm my family i innately believe that i must protect them. I dont need to think about this. On the other hand, the goals or beliefs of say an organization whereby they have a vision statement that employees are to believe, are merely thoughts. We can think about them but we wouldn’t die for them. They can be changed easily.
    However, i think there is a grey area between the two levels as there is overlap. When i dont think about the activity i am almost assuming and thus believing something. Johan’s point of dissonance comes true when my belief is now challenged. The deeper the belief the stronger the dissonance.
    When we rely on technology for communication and it does not do what we want (the email did not send but i thought it was sent), it is deeply frustrating. Thus, many of us are already deep believers in the truth/fact of technology in communication…

    Real fact? This is difficult. Facts keep changing so cognitive dissonance is here to stay then. This is impacted by the continuous bombardment of corporations/governments who have “valid factual evidence” for why we need their products/medicines/worldviews etc.

    Getting back to the topic: How do i teach my mother the language of technological communication? The same way the Spanish tried to teach the Indians, or the Europeans tried to teach the Africans? Its like two religions having a conversation, the opposing epistemologies are in the way. Unless i could live my mothers life and live my life concurrently then i have an edge in assisting with the learning. Ever tried looking for a beginners guide to computers, not readily available like it used to be. Its taken for granted that we already are at the level of computer user. The same is true for communication methods relying on technology.

    • Johann van der Merwe says:

      Real fact?
      That’s why I used “real fact” – students still confuse so-called objective and subjective “fact”, and some of what the “believe” in (the myth of technology?)is based not on the “fact” of technology (or, as I suspect they think, the afordances of technology), but their own stories/narratives around how they “see” (listen to) technology … this “fact of technology” for some of them does not change, therefore they learn not – same with older people who shy away from it for fear of, not the objective fact, but the subjective narrative (they listen to the wrong message).
      So, you cannot teach your mother (students)the language of … she (they have)has to do this herself, and what she really needs is a support structure to allow her to do exactly this. I am old enough for young people to give me funny, knowing looks (WE know but HE couldn’t possibly know). Perhaps we need to look at Vygotsky’s ZPD again to see some of the effects of forward-listening – a new type of “beginner’s guide” for the learning-perplexed in this technological age?

  6. Larry Richards says:

    I am with you, Philip, as long as we are talking about and acting within the current society. Rather than to try to solve problems within the current society (which I have to do anyway, by default), I prefer to imagine an alternative society. What would a society be in which there are no organized religions? What would a society be in which people do not talk of their “beliefs”, but rather of their “passions”? What would a society be in which incompatible and opposing epistemologies are encouraged and celebrated in the interest of generating new alternatives? What would technology be to support such a society? What would a conversation be in which we ask the other to teach us our langauge rather than us teaching them our language? Well, I like to imagine!

    • Johann van der Merwe says:

      This listening thing really does work. Your comment on language suddenly reminded me of British ex-colonial writers saying to the British themselves, “we are your history, and we are your language” – or words to that effect.
      Meaning that British writers “listened” to the “this is how I as colonial use your language”, and they adapted their own use accordingly (writerly, of course,but still), they allowed the other-of-English to teach them.
      My own language, despite being based mostly on Dutch, “listened” very effectively to words and meanings from Malaysia and the Phillippines, from India, especially regarding food … and we regard these words as pure Afrikaans today! In our case borrowing was listening, even if very slowly due to two or more cultures that rub along over time (have a slow conversation – aka cultural tolerance).

      As for “what would a society be …”, due to technological communicative ability (seeing stuff in distant countries and being able to comment)all societies today are changing quite rapidly in that respect (in some instances too rapidly?)- hence the Arab Spring effect. Some boffin should seize the moment to ask, how can technological communication be enhanced (re-designed) to fundamentally support the cultural changes taking place, so that the world can listen to the essence of what is being “said” …

  7. Philip Baron says:

    Johann i agree, the support structure is important in learning. The environment too should provide a favourable context for this learning to take place. This is part of my point, the environment does not readily support those who do not know how to communicate using technology. Using mobile phones for example, have you noticed how the instruction manuals are becoming smaller yet the phones can do more much much more and so on.
    You got a good point about ZPD. To what degree would this work? Interesting test. In the case of my mom, she has been around computer users and technical people but has not taken the plunge herself to communicate using these methods. Vygotsky would have said that by seeing the actions of others one could start to perform the activity. The question is why does this not occur with many people? Is it fear as you say?

    Real fact: This is tricky as i have an ethical problem here. Is there real fact? I guess it depends on the context.
    I believe it depends on which hat you are wearing. For example, it would be wrong for me wearing an electrical engineer hat to deny the FACT that electricity can kill. So when i teach my students i make sure that they know for fact that if they touch HV lines, they are susceptible to death. No grey area, just basic math, Ohm and Kirchhoff laws. We are using them right now to communicate our facts. However human perception= no fact, just negotiated communal reality. Is this a paradox? How do i have access to the FACT in the first place… okay this is going to end in a circle.

    Larry, any vacancies in that universe of yours? Send regards to John. I cant quite get it right. When i try to imagine that universe i tend to u-turn at the thought of human nature. People are funny, even if they got everything they want, peace, creativity etc, there will still be unhappy souls trying to conflict with others. Technology would probably be one more area for conflict 🙁

    • Johann van der Merwe says:

      There are no real facts, as far as human experience is concerned, only fleeting impressions, so I agree with you. The problem, especially with teaching, is that students (oh dear, too many staff as well) feel safe with “facts” that do not change, and wish to not-know about the social aspects that are ever changing … too much, they cry. Therein lies the paradox that a lot of people do not want to know about – that human perception can “deliver” objective fact (electricity kills) AND subjective fact (which is in constructivese a not-fact).
      To avoid the circular argument that ends at exactly the same place it started, Aristotle has the answer: (this is what I have written in my thesis) “Aristotle’s fact is incomplete, the idea instead of the ideal. As such it corresponds to our own beginnings, as first principles: Aristotle’s fact is a mutable instance of being, neither textually nor historically captured, in the sense that it is human experience and consciousness that is taken as the beginnings of everything that comes after, i.e., experience built on an action that can only be described as the present-compelling-itself-into-the-future. This is the very idea of what an experience is, can be, and can afford us, as human actors, in our knowing interaction with designed objects, situations, and with groups of people, which contact leads to an intelligible relationship, a space of understanding of our new selves as knowing beings, and because of this, a knowledge of our (new) relationship with the world and everything in it: our total world space. This is an Aristotelian the-fact-of-being-human beginning that does not begin at any defined, historical point since it always already begins at all points, and therefore, like true design (as an idea), never ends.”

      I get the feeling that ZPD could be worth exploring – anyone else with ideas for its application?

  8. Ranulph Glanville says:

    I’m delighted to see that this sort of developing commentary/discussion is going on here. I’m going to hang around outside this for the moment, and pay attention to those getting a little less attention at the moment!

  9. Larry Richards says:

    I am not convinced that what we call “human nature” is anything but a socially constructed excuse for behaviors that are needed to rationalize the continuing maintenance of current social structures. By explaining these behaviors as inherently biological, any alternative to control by a “power elite” is dismissed. There are alternative explanations, including alternative biological explanations, that could support alternative structures. Having said this, I cannot imagine any society in which people aren’t at least temporarily unhappy. Until I have that alternative society, I won’t know what to imagine for the next one after that. For me, that doesn’t imply that I shouldn’t see an alternative, only that I shouldn’t seek the ultimate “ideal” society. The “desirable” is in the process of seeking, not in the specific outcomes (although I seek better outcomes). What would a society be that encourages seeking alternatives to itself?

  10. Philip Baron says:

    Johan, same experience at my work, how do you survive. I have a few mates at work who are open to psychology and human perception. But, yes you are right, too many fact lovers. I cant judge my engineering students in this regard, but every now and then we open the door to uncertainty… youth and innocence is awe inspiring.

    A question for constructivism, if there are no facts then isn’t that a fact in itself?
    What was your thesis evaluated under, philosophy? I like your reworking of Aristotle.
    J: “it always already begins at all points, and therefore, like true design (as an idea), never ends” – do you also imply that parallel points also exist.

    Larry, i get your comment regarding human nature. I agree that context would determine people’s diagnosis by external “professionals” as sanity or insanity (and possibly be persecuted and medicated for that behaviour!). I would like to hear more about your “power elite”.
    My point was that even if the environment is ideal, or the seeking is appealing, don’t you think that people still need to actively participate in their happiness? They could have everything (material and immaterial) and still be permanently unhappy. I do think that unhappiness is part of a happy life though, as how would i know happiness without its partner, unhappiness, if that make sense to you.
    I find its the unpredictability and spontaneity that adds to my life, the not-knowing and undefined parts. The knowing and defining robs me of this better society, which may be lived in this society to some degree, if you one is willing?

    L: “What would a society be that encourages seeking alternatives to itself?” – this can work both ways, allowing us creativity and new behaviours but may also take away from enjoying our current world, as it is this world where we do spend considerable time.

    • Randall Whitaker says:

      “A question for constructivism, if there are no facts then isn’t that a fact in itself?”

      Constructivism doesn’t dispense with ‘facticity’ – it only moves a fact’s referential fundament from a presumptively stable ‘world’ without to the experiential ‘world’ within.

      • Johann van der Merwe says:

        Agreed. However, in learning (and being human) we have to focus on immaterial factuality instead of a material facticity, and know the difference, because they can be confused the one for the other.

    • Johann van der Merwe says:

      How do you survive? Barely … but “a few good men” (in my case, a few good women! colleagues) are enough: ONE is enough, if you can live in two worlds; the fake one where you smile at everyone and answer every “how are you question” with “fine, and how is yourself then?”, and the real one where you can speak to and listen to someone who “sees” you.
      My thesis is/was a design philosophical one, I suppose, if asking open-ended questions and refusing any determined answers is philosophy. As for Aristotle, I find the idea of objective (“I’ve written this down so don’t you dare change it”) fact that cheats and turns itself into a moving target (human development) far more appealing … we can be in two places at the same time, and work with two kinds of ‘fact’ as well – the now and the not-yet; if we only have hard evidence facts than how will the not-yet become … the new, the other-us? On this basis parallel points can exist (and the old cliche of ships passing in the night, except when you jump ship), and even must exist in human terms, since any one person cannot really 100% know (inhabit the space of) another person. The trick is to make a spark jump between the two points when they pass each other, or even (a good marriage) when they cruise along in parallel lines.

      I agree with your view of knowing happiness if you have known unhappiness (how else will you be able to really feel empathy towards someone who has suffered a loss?) – experience (if at all possible) is preferable to none. Humans do have to “actively participate” in their own existence and becoming … which is why “a society … that encourages seeking alternatives to itself” would be a better society. Gadamer and Derrida agreed on this point: society’s ‘cultural borders’ must be respected, but also transcended.

  11. Larry Richards says:

    Yes, this is our predicament, isn’t it? With respect to facts, I say that it is not a fact that there are no facts; it is a dilemma. So, I accept facts temporarily in order to maintain my “sanity”, but only to be able to do something (anything) in the current society. What would a society be in which there is no talk of “facts”, only “best current available knowledge”? And, of every scientific theory or law or hypothesis, the question is asked “is it desirable?” or “is it useful?” (rather than “is it true”?)?

  12. Randall Whitaker says:

    (In my typical role of devil’s advocate …)

    Larry: I concur with your points of 2 August, but must also ask the inevitable follow-up question: What would a world be in which the dominant ‘intelligent’ species guided its potentially self-serving / self-destructive actions with primary regard to ‘desirability’ or ‘utility’ as negotiated within the context of its own ‘society’?

  13. Mark Johnson says:

    I think institutional self-destruction (of which national self-destruction is a type) is a case of pathological autopoiesis.

    That’s the conflation of two levels of recursion: the individual and the institution. The individual seeks to maintain their identity by upholding their attachment to facts (even facts of non-facts; even dilemmas of non-facts, which still functions as a fact). Institutional distinctions are different, but a pathological adherence to certain facts within institutions (even 2nd order cybernetic facts!), coupled with socio-technical innovations that embody them create the conditions for the psychic starvation of individuals within them: certain questions become un-askable.

  14. I want to write something about facts here but feel constrained to do so in the current context.

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