The Technology, Knowledge & Society Research Network is brought together by a shared interest in the complex and subtle relationships between technology, knowledge and society. We are interested in the meaning of “technology” in general, but with a focus on the specific implications of digital computational technologies on everyday life.
In the long view of history, human progress is framed by technological epochs—the latest by digital computational technologies. These specific technologies have become signature change agents in all aspects of our domestic, working, and public lives. The objects of the transmission, capture, and display of digitized data weaved into our physical existence. Human designed algorithms are increasingly regulating the flow of information that comes to shape our opinions and actions.
There is always a utopian imaginary that runs parallel to technological epochs. A sense of a broader transformation of life in general that can be ushered in with a new “tool.” In the origin story of digital computational technologies, it was argued, that their very nature could expand the participatory possibilities for communicating actors, democratize knowledge and cultures, and allow individuals and communities to be generative agents of history.
In a comparative sense: how do we now evaluate the utopian origin story of this current epoch, as defined by digital computational technologies? If we look back to pre-digital contexts, in what ways have these technologies lived up to the original aspirations and readings of specific affordances? And as we move into a new epoch – a so-called fourth industrial revolution – defined by big-data, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things, what lessons can we learn to adapt and evolve from these current and prior epochs?
Cultural and epistemic production is part of our species characteristics. We are often told that we live in a knowledge society, as the marker for an epoch-defining post-industrial information age. But in a general sense, when has cultural and epistemic production not been integral to a human age? How have these elemental forces of social meaning-making not been also embodied in technological mediums that have structured human development?
At the same time, information has become an essential input in the digital computational economy. And there are material and immaterial realities to digital technologies that have changed our relationship to information production. In earlier times, information and communications technologies, centralized power, knowledge, and culture. They were built with heavy plant and physical infrastructure — the printing presses, the transmission stations, and the transport and distribution systems that only large corporations or the state could afford. They were dominated on a day-to-day basis by those with economic resources, political power, and elite cultural networks.
Within a utopian ideal, digital technologies were seen to allow for bottom-up structures of knowledge to emerge, building from the collaborative endeavors of knowledge-creating communities — in, for instance, workplaces, schools, and associations of common interest. In each case, they provided the means by which personal knowledge could be shared and transformed into common knowledge. From being receptors of knowledge, persons, organizations, and communities become makers and publishers of knowledge.
In a comparative sense: what are the underlying cultural and epistemic forces that shape the knowledge basis of technological ages? Do these cultural and epistemic forces serve as presuppositions, or as drivers of the "new" in and of themselves? And at a meta-level how do these forces become intertwined in pedagogies for educators, in content and delivery of knowledge practices for a digital computational age for formal and informal learning?
Technologies always have, in some way, shaped the production of communities and societies. Under the historical umbrella of globalization, it is now almost taken as a given that technologies of interconnection— modes of transport, markets, and communication—increasingly challenge the central meaning-making functions and institutional authority of communities and societies. Digital information flows add complexity to this history, intensifying the interconnections of spaces of information, knowledge, and cultural production, in ways that generate new kinds of de-territorialized shared meanings, and allow for the creation of new types of affinities and relations of global social life.
In the utopian origin story, the very nature of digital technology offered new systems and logics of governance that could radically alter how we constituted communities and societies. Rather than being based on principles of centrality and uniformity, the digital could support a myriad of cultures, interests, and knowledge communities to flourish.
How do technological epochs shape the norms and values of societies? What are the ethical challenges, the notions of good citizenship, and ecological foundations that support these imaginaries of making communities and societies?