Monday, January 27, 2003

An Extraordinary Mind

German-Canadian experimental physicist Ursula Franklin is one of the scholars I most admire - even if I do not always agree with her. I was first introduced to her work during my BA. She was a pioneer of archaeometry (materials analysis in archaeology) and has studied the metallurgical material culture (and technological processes) of many ancient cultures. And in my technology and culture class, we read her 1989 Massey Lecture, The Real World of Technology.

There's a stack of books I read in my undergrad that changed the way I think - and that was one of them. She never separates technology from people:

"I think what we are all discussing are political issues. They are political in the best sense of the word, in the original Greek sense of the word, in that they affect the community, the very citizens who have to work and live together. When all the technology is disposed of, when we have understood or put aside all the details, what is left are the issues of how people live together. These political issues have existed ever since people have lived together and were articulate about their relationships.

To me, it is important to understand that technology is practice, it is the way we do things around here. This definition takes machines and devices into account, as well as social structures, command, control, and infrastructures. It is helpful for me to remember that technology is practice. Technology, as a practice, means not only that new tools change, but also that we can change the practice. If we have the political will to do so, we can set certain tools aside, just as the world has set slavery and other tools aside. It is also the nature of modern technology that it is a system. One cannot change one thing without changing or affecting many others."

And today - instead of arguing details - I just want to let myself be inspired by her general concerns.

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