Haas: "The Technology Question"

Haas, C. (1996). The Technology Question. Writing technology: studies on the materiality of literacy (pp. 3-23). Mahwah N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.



Nice phrase: "writing is language made material" (3). Chapter goal: argues that


"the materiality of writing, although often overlooked, is actually at the heart of a number of current controversies within literacy studies, and that this materiality must be acknowledged to fully appreciate the nature of literate acts. Further, understanding writing as inextricably based in the material world can provide a theoretical basis from which to argue about the most recent iteration of the Technology Question: What is the nature of computer technologies, and what is their impact on writing?" (3)


Material--having mass/matter, occupying physical space. Attempting to avoid Marxist terminology, but acknowledges Marx and Engels'' historical materialism--"the notion that the material world matters" (4). Not setting up binaries. Writing occurs in the material world, but materiality of writing object of dispute. 


Lit review: Plato, Derrida (philosophical); Havelock, Ong, Goody, Watt (empirical investigation/literacy); Vygotsky, Scribner, Cole (dichotomization of speech and writing/confusion of cultural and cognitive f/x). All concerned with Tech Ques, but less than explicit (5). Repeats call for systematic, detailed examination.


The Technology Question in Philosophy


Plato and Derrida "reorganize [sic?] that writing is inherently bound up with issues of truth, knowledge, and ultimately power" (6). Cites Phaedrus and Socrates''s denunciation of writing (shadow, removed from speech, fosters forgetfulness, unresponsive). Derrida-- "writing is not ancillary or secondary or derived, but it is always already there" (7)--Plato needs writing to attack it. Neel paraphrases Derrida: "Whatever is supposed to precede and inform writing, whatever is supposed to escape play or be primary or be present in its own right always turns out to operate just like writing. Writing, in other words, created the West, not the other way around" (7).


Defines Plato''s approach as psychological, Derrida''s cultural. 


The Technology Question in Histories of Ancient Greece


Historical analysis of how writing f/x ancient civ.


Ong (Orality and Literacy): "writing transforms human consciousness by moving language from an aureal realm, where it unfolds across time, to a visual realm, where it takes on a primarily spatial quality" (9). Sight distances/isolates, fosters analysis; sound is localizing. Oxymoron that writing lifeless but perpetually resurrected (9). 


Havelock: the "oral-literate problem" (10). Invention of Greek alphabet, addition of vowels creating more accurate sound to sight correspondence, constituted literate revolution in ancient Greece. Insists that primary orality impossible for our literate minds--so entrenched, ubiquitous, transparent. Non-literate cultures not necessarily primitive. Psychology: "poetry functions as the mediating mechanism between psychological imprinting and shared cultural memory" (11). Doesn''t address how lit skills of individuals lead to cultural revolution.


Goody and Watt: astonished that the representation of sound to graphic symbol even occurred. Goal to explicate differences between literate and nonliterate cultures. Use ancient Greece/rise of literacy to illustrate how to engage in the study. G&W concur with Ong and Havelock that writing changes space/time dimensions of language. In oral societies, past and present continuous. Writing brings disjunction of past and present; literate cultures develop sense of history, cultural/historical difference, difference between error and truth -> skepticism (11). Logical analysis grows from spatialization of language. Discuss both cultural/psychological aspects of implications of development of writing. 


All would concur with Plato that writing creates space, but these theorists celebrate the possibilities of the distance rather than, as Plato does, lament it. 


Final thoughts: these theorists emphasize materiality of written language, and all examine cultural/historical iplications, but "none of them explicates how, or by what means, the individual translates into the cultural, or vice versa" (13).


The Technology Question in Socio-Psychological Theory


Theorists examine aspects of Technology Question by/through examining "relationship between cultural systems" (13). Summarizes: "Vygotsky and Scribner and Cole address literacy directly, whereas Lave deals with mathematics as a cultural system" (13).


Theorists offer two additions to examination. a) "address how culture and cognition mutually construct one another" (13); calls "into question the notion that writing and speech, or literacy and illiteracy (or, analagously, print and computers), are mutually distinctive phenomena" (13). Vygotsky uses genetic-historical method, Scribner and Cole empirical.


Technological Mediation


Vygotsky: influenced by Marxism, historical materialism. Extended Marxist notion of material tools to include sign systems (psychological tools). For Engels, labor and instruments create humans, so humans as much product of labor as implement. For Vygotsky, "psychological tools are the mediational means by which higher psychological functions develop" (14). Human development occurs through creation and use of psychological tools. Illustrates with how language acquisition in children is a psychological act. Extends to how works culturally/historically over time (from finger counting to arithmetic) (15). Encapsulates Vygotsky thus: "tools and signs can have a profound impact on both individual mental functioning and cultural change" (15). Not consistent or predictable across contexts. Notes that V does not stress materiality of writing, but metaphorically as psychological tools, analagous to a hoe (16). Overlooks the reliance on technology.


The Historical-Genetic Method


Vygotsky''s method which counters notions of technological determinism. Historical contexts important (historical= evolution, individual societies, individuals within society, development of psychological systems [17]). Argues that Vygotsky''s theory of mediation helps to see tools/signs/technologies "as spacially and culturally distributed systems that function to augment human psychological processing" (17). Seems to be more of an ecological approach--process of use, process of development, and in transition. Demonstrates how this argues against determinism on 18.


Neo-Vygotskian Approaches to the Technology Question


Scribner and Cole / Lave develop notions of "practice" that build upon Vygotsky. Scribner and Cole, and Lave "practice ties together thinking and acting human beings with their cultural, material, political contexts and is therefore a way to integrate agent, action, and world" (19). Countering technological determinism, practice is only part of the complex of factors. 


Scribner and Cole: literacy is contextualized. Nonliterates understand how "the practice of literacy tranforms space and time dimensions for language users" (19). Writing not decontextualized speech, against dichotimization of technological systems, no great divide of technological change. Technology matters.


Lave: everyday activity. Math is both academic and popular/real, though culturally, academic higher valued. Kind of the common sense vs abstract application. "In general, Lave places technologies and artifacts as a central, pivotla position between the individual and cultural practice within which that individual operates" (20).


Cultural Myths and a Space for Technology Studies


Argues that in these areas of research the Technology Question is "latent" (21). Technology merely technology, but not systematically examined. Concern is that can lead to instrumental view of technology--merely a tool. Again, concerned with ubiquity/transparency/ lack of reflection as to technology. Explains tensions between transparency myth and determinism myth. Technology carries within it ideology (23).