Monday, 15 August 2011

Technique changes culture. VLSI techniques do so at the speed of light.

This technology profoundly changes cultures

Some ideas for analyzing the effects of high technologies on cultures.

by Tom Thorne

High technology cultures are information heavy. Information and knowledge combined with constant learning a living are so ubiquitous that it all goes unnoticed in a high technology culture. It is all normal. The entire environment is informational and operated in never ending rounds of communication and connection.

Now step back from the high technology culture and imagine one where constant information is not the way things work. Quiet isn’t it? The quiet is deafening and very noticeable. Time is not compressed or not even very important. This too is normal. It is a fundamental characteristic of low technology cultures. Low technology cultures live in the minute where communications are personal and learning is integrated into daily routine at a leisurely pace passed on by elders.

Your technological surroundings define who you are and how you perceive what you are doing. As an example, if the young people I know in our high technology culture had their computers, cell phones and other electronic devices taken from them their lives would alter instantly. Their sense of normal would be shattered. They may even become anxious. They are used to being always in touch and multitasking. They leap frog over their elders and learn from themselves with all the usual arrogance of youth, but moving at the speed of light.

So when I raise the issue of analyzing the effects of high technologies I do so in our high technology context which of course makes what I say or predict very biased from the point of view of my own culture. It is hard to divorce yourself from your culture and its communications and information techniques to get some measure of the culture’s effects. 

VSLI techniques
If my culture is using advanced Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) circuits to process my information for me, then I am clearly affected by that technique as are the young people I mentioned earlier. 

I am writing this on a VLSI device that can “process” my words. It is automated typing with equally automated correcting capabilities. I am committed in this instance to the written word and a written word that reduces each of my word choices to a 0 or 1 encoding. There is an information layer beneath my word processing. That world is computer programming and it even corrects my spelling gaffes.

In addition, this VSLI technology is instantly connected to a world wide web of information and content so that I can check facts, find pictures and do any number of useful research tasks that a low technology culture cannot even conceive of doing. That defines my work and how I do it. It also influences the content that I write and how I write it.

As convenient as word processing is it is a a technique that influences how I write and possibly how I think.  When I am writing I am conscious of words on the page and how they link and how each paragraph appears to have some white space around it. On top of the high technology I am using, I have to live with my journalism training which is of course a cultural bias in itself also larded on top of all the VSLI techniques I am using. 

Other editorial cultures are equally effected by their own techniques.
if I was working in a medieval scriptorium I would be hand writing and perhaps even illustrating a single copy book. If I lived in a Gutenberg technology time (1450 AD) it would not be my job to be aware of how my pages appear and look.  Those decisions would come from the people setting the movable type and placing the woodcut illustrations on the page. 

When you commit to using high technologies for your work your input and output changes by virtue of the techniques you employ. How much is my message influenced by the techniques I employ? I cut and I paste I edit as I go, and the spell check software is always influencing me. It automates my time but it also changes my editorial thinking. 

The technique I use effects the content and  it creates a culture of work and probably influences what I say and how I do it in very subtle ways. However, to most people engaging the techniques of VLSI they live in their own normal unaware that technique influences how and what they do.

Most North American and European twenty-somethings are so caught up in a world of VSLI technique that they are unaware of any other culture ever existed. They do not know a time without connection to the internet, or a world of personal computers, smart phones and iPads. It is their normal. VSLI techniques jumpstart the Third World into a world of VSLI aspirations by introducing cheap cell phones and phone cards to even desperate places like refugee camps.

Work before computers...low technology also influences content.
Anyone my age who has lived the introduction of VSLI from its very rude beginnings 40 years ago knows the difference technique can make to culture. I learned to write on a manual typewriter where every key I pressed was a potential mistake and called for white out to repair the damage. There was no word processing and spelling was corrected from a dictionary in book form. There were no computers. There was only the noisy click-clack of 20 students writing on type writers.

That experience had its own culture. Its techniques were better than handwriting but like all techniques they influenced how you did your work. The operative word was “carefully” so the white out bottle would not be needed.  

These are some of the concepts needed to start analyzing the effects of high technology on cultures. They provide reference points for discussion and I hope to continue this important topic as time goes on.

© Copyright, 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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