Technology Paper Update 1

Entry 1

It’s been 3 days without food or water At this point, I plan to write on the use of chemical warfare internationally. Particularly, I plan to center the discussion on the policy of chemical warfare; that is, the legal status of its research and (more especially) use. In order to reach a solid conclusion, I’ll need to look into current and past legal statuses of the technology in order to examine their respective results. In addition (perhaps unfortunately), this paper will most likely require a discussion of the purpose of international law and the propriety of weapons in general. More specifically, the key will be to identify any differences between chemical warfare and other weapons which are uncontroversially legal. This, in turn, will require a discussion of the specific effects of chemical warfare, such as the amount of pain it inflicts on its targets. Of course, as with most ethical topics, the correct answer (whose existence I shall assume) is liable to be rather nuanced; for example, if I conclude that chemical warfare ought, in fact, to be legal, I must consider under what circumstances (and especially on what targets) it ought to be used. Or if I conclude that chemical warfare ought in principle to be illegal, practical circumstances may render its use necessary for some greater good (or, indeed, vice-versa).

Articles such as this rather recent article from National Geographic may be helpful as general resources, but I’ll likely need to focus more particularly on sources which discuss its legal status or results. This publication might be a good place to start; although, since it originates from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Warfare (OPCW), I’ll need to take its bias into account. An article such as this one is closer to what I’ll need, but I may want to find one from a well-known, respected publication. The difficult part will be to find publications which argue that chemical warfare ought to be legal after all, because of the many countries who have signed a treaty prohibiting it. Although, as with any legal issue, I’m bound to find dissenting opinions eventually.

TED Talk: How the Internet will (one day) transform government

Link

1. Shirky discusses the applicability of tools (specifically distributed version control) used by open-source programmers to the political domain.

2. He concludes that the tools are, in fact, useful for achieving more fully the ends of democracy, and thus their use in this regard ought to be supported by the people.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “No democracy anywhere in the world offers this feature (providing the public with knowledge of the differences between subsequent versions of the law) to its citizens for either legislation or for budgets, even though those are the things done with our consent and with our money.” At first glance, this does not appear to be a terribly important service to provide to the people. However, closer examination reveals the utility in such an enterprise: if the government is to be run as a democracy, the people are to play a role in the legislation, and thus ought to have the maximum access possible to changes in law.
  • “… being given a dashboard without a steering wheel has never been the core promise a democracy makes to its citizens.” This makes clear the difference knowledge of the goings-on of one’s government and actively participating therein; a government which claims to be a democracy and yet merely informs its citizens of its decisions forfeits that claim.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “More media always means more arguing.” If this is taken to mean that there are quantitatively more arguments when there are more media, this statement seems quite obviously true. However, if is he claiming that there are comparatively more arguments when there are more media, this is less plausible. Which is it?
  • “And this brings up the question, what made [the goverment] think they could get away with [censoring a nine-year-old]. And the answer is, all of human history prior to now.” What does he mean by “now” here? He proceeds to cite similar changes to media in society dating back to the printing press in the 15th century, and so the trend is easily hundreds of years old. Is the change which resulted from the advent of the Internet simply that drastic?

5. Related article: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/intl-call-for-democracy-in-digital-age/ This article considers the negative rather than the positive effects technology can have on social and political issues: they expedite government surveillance. Clearly, they consider this development bad.

Silence and the Notion of the Commons

1. Franklin discusses the role of silence in the context of the commons, or the public sphere.

2. Franklin concludes that silence is an integral part of the commons, which ought to be supported by the government as a fundamental human right.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “In addition, modern devices make it possible to decompose, recompose, analyze and mix sounds, to change the initial magnitude and sustainability of sound, as well as to change all the characteristics that link the sound with its source. R. Murray Schafer called this ‘schizophonia,’ separating the sound from the source” (Franklin 642). In addition to introducing a clever portmanteau, this explicates a hidden result of the advancement of sound technology: the sound is no longer dependent on the source.
  • “Silence, in addition to being an absence of sound, is defined by a listener, by hearing” (Franklin). Eschewing its common (and, admittedly, correct) definition, Franklin grounds the concept of silence more strongly in the context of people, without whom silence becomes irrelevant (at least to her topic).

4. Confusing quotations

NOW we’re talking…

  • “First of all, we must insist that, as human beings in a society, we have a right to silence” (Franklin 645). It seems that, in an effort to be pithy, Franklin has lost a significant degree of precision. This imprecision arises most importantly from her use of the word right. If by right she simply means to imply that it is better for humans to have silence available for contemplation, then this statement seems rather uncontroversial. However, if she actually means a sort of inalienable or fundamental obligation of the government to enforce a degree of silence, her statement seems much less plausible. What does she mean to say here?
  • “I have yet to see, beyond hospitals, a public building that has a private room” (Franklin 645). Um, how about a library? That seems, if anything, even quieter than a hospital.

5. Related article: http://soundartabstraction.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/the-music-of-the-environment-by-r-murray-schafer/ This article summarizes an article written by the clever wordsmith Franklin cites (quotation 3.1). The article in question discusses the negative effect the “introduction of unwanted noise” has on natural environmental noise.

The Touch-Screen Generation

1. Rosin discusses the effect on toddlers of their increasingly frequent use of digital technology.

2. Rosin argues that technology in itself is not damaging to toddlers and can, indeed help educate them.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “Most of them were disappointingly ‘instructive,’ he found-‘drag the butterfly into the net, that sort of thing. They were missing creativity and imagination.” This seems to imply that explicitly instructive educational materials take a dive in efficacy when they lack creativity and imagination.
  • “[Children’s] hands are a natural extension of their thoughts.” This connection is unintuitive; hands and other extremities are commonly ignored as extensions of the mind.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “In her excellent book Screen Time, the journalist Lisa Guernsey lays out a useful framework – what she calls the three C’s – for thinking about media consumption: content, context, and your child.” I take issue with this alliterative formulation. First, why is “child” last? The whole point of the framework is to accommodate your child, yet it is suffixed as almost a side note to her framework. Second, why is “child” in the phrase at all? If, again, the whole point of the framework is to accommodate the child, it seems as though its inclusion adds no useful content in the context of the phrase (see what I did there?). Perhaps she meant to refer to factors specific to the individual child. Granted, this does not begin with C. Then again, neither does “your.”
  • “[(Gideon wrongly chose Elmo)] As it happens, Gideon was not in the majority.” This seems rather to undermine her previous paragraph recounting the scene, as the story does little to support the argument she proceeds to make.

5. Related article: Balancing benefits, harm of too much screen time (utsandiego.com) Miller also discusses the effect of technology on toddlers, but he takes a view on the opposite end of the spectrum: parents ought to institute technology as an exception, not a rule.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

1. Carr discusses the effect of the Internet (and Google in particular) on the human intellect.

2. While conceding that the Internet offers distinct advantages in research and writing, Carr concludes that its use reduces the human mind to an artificial ghost of its former self.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” This notes the tendency of humans to compare their minds to the most precise or advanced technology available, revealing a sort of anthropic chauvinism in humans.
  • “Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly it’s reprogramming us.” (emphasis mine) This statement reveals that, although the Internet was originally programmed by man, the reverse relationship applies in a significant way. Carr also considers this idea when he discusses Nietzsche’s adoption of the typewriter, a human invention which, nonetheless, “reprograms” his writing style.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “… the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments ‘remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.'” Although mechanical clocks, when used improperly, conceivably can lead to an improper veto of the human internal clock (and they likely have), it seems that they could also be used to enhance these instincts. For example, if it is determined experimentally that a person ought to sleep a certain number of hours on any given night, a clock can be used to enforce this schedule without undermining instincts (provided the instincts are, indeed correct). In essence, this seems to be an impoverished view only if the clock is used to enforce a schedule inferior to that mandated by the instincts in question.
  • “‘In the past the man has been first,’ he declared; ‘in the future the system must be first.'” !!! This is rather unsettling. Does Taylor really mean to imply that men ought to be considered less important than machines in general, or just in the factory setting? Either way, doesn’t this undermine the initial purpose of the factories of more efficiently producing goods for human consumers?

5. Another Carr article This article considers how ghostwriters (and particularly computerized ghostwriters) remove the personal human element from the social media. Considering his sarcastic tone, Carr evidently does not support this removal.

The Judgment of Thamus

1. Postman evaluates the effects of technological progress.2. He argues that mankind as a whole ought to consider not the practical efficacy of new technology, but rather its subtler ideological effects on human thought and society.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “‘What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory.'” (Postman 4) This paradoxical admonition makes a distinction between two popularly equivalent concepts: essentially that “memory” extends beyond “recollection.” In context, Thamus (whose argument Postman endorses) implies that having the resources to locate a certain piece of information is significantly inferior to retaining it “by … internal resources.” (Postman 4)
  • “… language is not merely a vehicle of thought but also the driver” (Postman 14) While apparently not original to Postman, this clever extension of a common metaphor points out the crucial role played by language in human thought: the directing of language by thought is reciprocated.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “If a number can be given to the quality of a thought, then a number can be given to the qualities of mercy, love, hate, beauty, creativity, intelligence, even sanity itself.” (Postman 13) This seems to be a false generalization, even if the assumption is granted. Postman does not sufficiently explain the link between the “quality of a thought” and the other ideas, especially love and beauty. Furthermore, “the quality of a thought” is not clearly defined. If it is taken to mean the beauty or goodness of the idea, the quantifiability of this quality would indeed seem to imply the measurability of at least several of the listed qualities. However, in many cases, the grade follows a different rubric. For example, a common criterion is the efficacy of the student’s argument in favor of the thought. Granted, the availability of effective arguments for a given proposition surely depends on the verity of the proposition, and so the grade thus indirectly measures the truth of the thought. However, the truth of a thought is even less comparable to the other listed qualities than its less specific counterpart.
  • “If one is to err, it is better to err on the side of Thamusian skepticism [concerning the goodness of technology].(Postman 5) Does “better” here refer only to the outcomes of new technology? If so, this quotation reduces to the trivial statement that “Better outcomes are better,” and is thus rather pointless. Otherwise, what does he mean to say?

5. Related article: Digital Evolution (reason.com) This article also discusses the consequences of technology for human society, comparing the optimistic and pessimistic views. The author tends toward what he dubs “pragmatic optimism,” a slightly nuanced and tempered form of the former view.

Eiseley Blog Post

1. Eiseley compares machines to living things, considering especially whether the latter can be conceptually reduced to the former.

2. Although he concedes the impressive advancements made by technology, Eiseley gives a negative answer to his question: living things fundamentally transcend mechanistic characterization.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “It’s life I believe in, not machines.” This rather provocative statement assigns a fundamental significance to life as opposed to machines. It also implies that machines are not alive, a cornerstone of his argument.
  • “But what man will do to himself he doesn’t really know” This implies not only that man perpetrates changes to himself, but further that he does this as a result of some unconscious life force within himself.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “It leaves a nice fine indeterminate sense of wonder that even an electronic brain hasn’t got, because you know perfectly well that if the electronic brain changes, it will be because of something man has done to it.” That machines only change due to man’s influence seems patently false: nature surely takes effect on them (e.g. a laptop’s memory is corrupted when coffee is spilled on its keyboard). Along a similar vein, could the changes on man which he interprets as resulting from forces within his own self actually result from nonliving external forces? This seems to be one of the crucial pegs on which Eisely’s argument hangs.
  • “I can never bear to see a bird imprisoned.” Then why does he hunt two in the following paragraphs? Whatever reason he had for hunting them, did he ever really intend to keep them in captivity indefinitely?

5. The Earth is a Machine This article addresses a similar question to that addressed in Eiseley’s article: “Ought one consider the earth to be a machine?” However, Newitz arrives at the opposite conclusion: the subject (the earth, which includes life forms) should be considered as a machine.