Epistemology of Tech


You may have heard it argued that all forms of technology are harmless or without bias. You can use television for good or for evil; language can both build up and tear down; a gun can be used to murder or to protect; it’s up to the user of the technology to make good and moral decisions about how they use it.

While there is much truth in this, I argue that it can cause us to miss the underlying roles that our tools play in shaping our perception of reality. Every message, every tool – irregardless of it’s content – has a very specific structure, a host of priorities that were built into it’s nature. This influences the way we use them, the types of messages we create with them, and the way we process information disseminated from them.

Neil Postman describes this in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death when he says that “every technology comes with it’s own epistemology or structure of understanding, knowing, and discerning truth from opinion.” For example, Twitter has set up a structure of knowing (or an epistemology) that values quickness and chronology over verifiability, brevity over depth; the 140 character limit demands wittiness but restricts fastidiousness; it is mass communication with a quasi democratic structure;. Twitter encourages a way of knowing that is radically different from other technologies such as Facebook, novels, newspaper, television, radio, etc.

A series…

In this series I will look at various technologies and how they shape the way we communicate, work, think. Every technology is built with a structure and set of ideals that are often completely unrecognized by the user, but it is important for us to learn about the biases that are built into the tools that we interact with every day, enlightening us to the ways in which they are shaping our reality.

I will first look at the nature of Facebook and analyze what I call The Fakebook Effect…