Are technologies making us blind?
Don’t get me wrong.
To question usage of technologies is not to reject them but to ask about how we use technologies - so we can improve.
Technologies can foster agency. No doubt. Yet, some people, technophiles as well as mainstream users, can feel something uneasy about usage of technologies.
And despite all the conversations we struggle to pin down what this uneasiness is about. In a way we can sense the symptoms - and think that we have some solutions, for example using open source software1 - but struggle to articulate what the root cause is.
And so we might want to ask: are technologies undermining our ability to figure what this feeling of uneasiness is about?
In other words, can our usage of technologies make us blind?
You the reader might be thinking: “What do you mean?”
A fable by Aesop
Here is a short story.
In a fable by Aesop, a domesticated dog encounters a skinny wolf.
The wolf asks the dog how come he is so well-fed.
The dog praises the convenience of domesticated life: food, shelter et cetera - and invites the wolf to join.
But, noticing the marks left by the collar on the neck of the dog, the wolf inquires.
The dog evades answering by minimizing the trouble: “it’s nothing”.
On hearing this, the wolf flinches and walks away from the dog’s offer to join the convenience of domesticated care.
Now: what’s the point of me writing up about this fable?
Commentators miss the point
For centuries, various commentators have identified this fable as a eulogy to freedom.
And we have an idea of why this story is (the wolf walks out to “freedom”.)
But identifying this fable as a eulogy to freedom is missing something.
A couple of questions help us see why:
Why doesn’t the dog walk out to freedom along with the wolf?
Could it be that the dog doesn’t walk out because he cannot see what we see?
In other words: has domesticated life made the dog blind? Can the dog no longer see that he has become a serf2 to his master as he praises domestication?
Is it that the world of convenience (which the master has shaped) has been undermining the dog’s ability to see what freedom is about?
What we can and cannot see
The owner of the dog - that is an agent - has shaped the dog’s world3: what the dog can and cannot see.
Technologies are also agents which shape our world.
They shape how we do business: the customers we get and the ones we don’t; the news we read and the ones we don’t; the books we read and the ones we don’t; how we do politics: the campaigns we see and the ones we don’t; who we vote for; and finally our personal life: who we get to date (and maybe live with) and who we never meet.
In other words, what we can and cannot see.
And so is it fair to ask: can technologies make us blind?
A Pharmakon: to see technologies as drugs, poisons as well as remedies
To ask this is not to reject technologies, but, to see technologies as drugs: an agent which is the intertwinement of a poison and a remedy4.
For the last 300 years, we’ve thought of technological progress as societal progress, but today, we come to realise that adopting more technologies unquestionably is not necessarily taking us to a better place.
Again, to say this is not to reject technologies, but to keep in mind that when we use technologies, we use a drug - which can certainly sooth us, but also comes with its share of poison. And so, if we can see the pharmacological effects of our technological usage, we might want to ask: can technologies make us blind? Or, conversely, thinking of the remedial aspect: how can technological usage foster the agency we have over our world instead of undermining it?
Said otherwise: how not to become a blind dog?
That is the question I attempt to answer in my book.
If you want to receive an email when the book is out, send an email to:
I do self-funded research and I am writing a book which will be distributed freely (under a Creative Common license).
If you would like to support my research, you can hire me. I make plain text websites and work as a skipper (sailor). I also can take donations; if you are interested in helping or simply have questions or thoughts you want to share, you contact me: https://yctct.com/contact.
I am not saying open source is the panacea, in fact, I think “open source” (as well as permissive software licenses) are missing the point↩︎
The milieu more precisely in the words of Stiegler↩︎
An idea of philosopher Bernard Stiegler↩︎
I do self-funded research and I'm writing a book.
> What's the book about?
About technologies and agency.
Meaning, technologies can foster agency. No doubt. But I am also asking:
Can usage of technologies give us a sense of empowerment while in fact undermining our abilities?
I posted a summary of the prologue on the homepage: https://yctct.com/