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How Does Technology Affect Schools, Part I

"We can't ignore the social implications of our technical progress."Douglas Engelbart

The study of Technology and Technological Media is perhaps a subject more suited to Social Studies than Science. Though computerized technology runs on mathematical formulas, algorithms made up of binary code, the ubiquitous network of computerized systems that we use has become the infrastructure by which our world is run. Technology is therefore a socio-economic and cultural structure as well as a machine of engineering. It is imperative for the student to be educated in the workings of technology so that they may be prepared for the experiences of their future.

The digital technology with which we are dealing has already, is still and will continue, to alter the old infrastructure of our world, changing it forever in many obvious and many hidden ways. We do not see the workings of this computerized infrastructure, as they are largely invisible, performed on the other side of the screen. However, transactions are ongoing between machine and machine, between machine and man. Exchanging information, goods, services and currency, the digital technological infrastructure is inseparable from economy, government, and the industrial complex; it is inseparable from the running of our daily existence. It alters our world and our lives as it moves forward with a strangely powerful momentum that seemingly defies individual human choice.

As the technological infrastructure works beyond human speeds, interactions must be pre-conditioned for humans to intercede in the running of the machines. The role of the human in automated work and the interaction with digitized technologies is changed by the incredible speed of transactions and computer-calculations. Apart from the Programmer of the machine, the role of the human is altered from previously being understood as the physically present and intellectually present commander in the processes of running machines, into the distanced-monitor of machine commands and the consumer of pre-programmed outcomes.

The human qualities of morality, spontaneity, humour, thinking and emotions are not easily interjected into this structure as they continue to resist reduction to digital design; our sense of love and the ethereal are not definable by Boolean logic nor is our sense of self conceivable within a machine. The machine is programmed to act in specific ways within specific constraints.

As digital technology is the new infrastructure digital devices are deemed as being empowering to the individual. It is often suggested during the introduction of digital technology into the schools that the control of the individual over this infrastructure is also growing. Yet, this sense of Entrepreneurial possibility is largely overstated. It is clear that the power of the individual to build and monitor social infrastructures is diminishing as the Internet is always exerting a bias for scale. The individual may seem to have a larger market for their innovations, goods and services but the large Internet Corporation is becoming the truly super-large corporation. These corporate entities are by design steering the population away from personal control of technology towards consumption of computerized technology as offered by them. Under the guise of ‘free’ software and ‘secure’ storage and ease of use, technology corporations are quickly developing the Internet to run as a utility.

Unlike only a year ago when one could buy the software that one needed for one’s business, now software must be rented from and personal work stored by, the corporation who controls the product. A good example is that Adobe’s Industrial software is only available on their “Creative Cloud” and it can only be rented, never owned. 5 years ago Apple Computers stopped making their top of the line, industrial strength desktop computers thereby leaving the “professional” computer users, (the Film Makers, 3d Designers, Sound Recorders and Engineering industrialists) without the “tools” to function as independent makers of technology. In essence removing the control of digital outcomes from the sector of society that might be perceived as “artisan” and “entrepreneur.” Further to this, Apple stopped supporting privately run servers in a meaningful way, signaling it’s currently ongoing transformation from hardware computer builder to software utility provider while continuing its ongoing transition to becoming the preeminent infrastructure supplier of commercial entertainment, goods, and data storage; A utility provider.

Apple has orchestrated this change in corporate identity by using your computer’s operating system to aid it’s financial goals. By programming the operating system of your computer to continually push your business and personal transactions to their web portals iTunes, The App Store and iCloud, have become incredibly successful commercial entities. Controlling the software and hardware options available to the individual through a continuous and largely automated stream of updates Apple has aggressively become a super-store distribution warehouse for proprietary software and media goods. Literally the individual User cannot log on to an Apple computer without entering the Apple Store. -–This model has also been adopted in Windows 8.-- The intrusive digitalized Apple-sales-bots are built into the operating system and programmed in sophisticated ways, relentlessly persuading you to buy something from your good friend Apple; relentlessly pushing you onto the their web through the gateway of what was once perceived of as your computer, and now is perhaps better thought of as their conduit to supplying your digital desires through the exchange of personalized data including financial data. In our current Utility run environment you may own your furnace but you do not own the utilities that make it run, in the digital infrastructure you can buy a computer, but, you do not own the software, as with the gas-oil-electric utilities, the actual control of the infrastructure is in the hands of the super large corporation. But it is more the difference in these types of utilities, rather than the similarities of business model that will affect our students lives in the most powerful of ways. Coal is not personal data, electricity is not information, gas is not communication, AND human thought and expression are NOT commodities for exploitation…. Or are they?