My ETEC 533 instructor provided us with some quotes which describe ways we can define technology.  The question is really, what is technology, and what is a useful metaphor for describing technology.  I think you can’t really separate the two from each other given a constructivist point of view.  Basically, in order to define something, anything, we use a metaphor to explain how this definition fits into what we already know.

Okay enough pre-amble.  Here’s the definition/metaphor that resonated most with me.

"Feenburg (1999, 2003) suggests that technology is the medium of daily life in modern societies. His impression is that technology is humanly controlled and value-laden just like a social institution." – summarized by my instructor from Feenburg, A.  (2003).  Questioning technology.  New York, NY: Routledge.

The idea to me is this.  We decide as a society what we consider technology and what we do not.  If a school decides they want to spend more on their technology budget, they aren’t going to go out and buy a bunch of fax machines, photocopiers and overhead projectors.  This isn’t what schools generally mean by ‘technology’.  Schools who want to increase their use of technology are talking about cutting-edge technology, stuff that is relatively new.  They don’t actually mean those older things which for the most part no one considers technology anymore.  I’ve mentioned this before on this blog and it seems to me to be a common theme for my course, but I’ll say it again:  If it is ubiquitous and reliable as a toaster, it’s no longer considered technology.

I wasn’t sure what is meant by medium of daily life in this context so I had to go read Feenburg’s description of his book to figure it out.  Basically, he suggests that every once in a while a cultural upheaval happens, and the way society views the world shifts.  Our currently evolving view of technology is just one of those shifts.  In his book, Feenberg argues that technology has become how we live our life, rather than a tool we use in our life.  I’m not in complete agreement with him on this one, but I would agree that hardly anyone (in the 1st or 2nd world) could go a day without using some sort of pretty advanced technology, and maybe our reliance on technology isn’t such a good thing.

Anyway, I see technology as that which would have been magic 10 years ago.  If it was around 10 years ago, probably today most people take it for granted.  Under this perspective, computers in a school computer lab aren’t really technology anymore, it’s the web browsers running on them and the software they run that really control of what they are capable.  People make choices about what should be on those computers based on sociological factors.