Week 4: Human Agency and Technology

As technology rapidly becomes more and more complex and “smart” what does this mean for human agency? What is the “internet of things” and how does it relate to a human’s ability to express their individual power? According to Jorgensen (2016:48) the “internet of things” is “the emerging cluster of objects, standards, and digital applications”.

Technological objects, such as a programmable thermostat or a fridge that will make recommendations for an individual’s next meal, are becoming commonplace on the market (well, maybe not so much the “smart” fridge in the eyes of consumers). These technological advancements seem to make life easier for endusers, but engineers and developers are making the assumption that consumers do not want to think or act for themselves; they are removing their agency. For example, the Fitbit takes the form of a wrist watch that not only tells time, but also tells the wearer when to get up and move around. Are we so divorced from ourselves (or busy) that we can not even figure out when we should move? Do we really need a Jetson’s fridge to tell us what we should buy at the grocery store? Humans should be cognizant of what they should or shouldn’t be doing without a hunk of metal dictating their lives.

At the epicenter of all of these new gadgets is the smartphone. The smartphone connects humans with humans (e.g. Facebook), humans with technology (e.g. a phone), and technology with other technology (e.g. using the phone to turn on the lights in your house), but does it connect us with ourselves? Is it giving us the ability to express our individuality or is it somehow creating our individuality? Interestingly enough, technology is made by people and for people but has somehow managed to minimize, if not eliminate, our agency. Bottom line – we should be enthusiastic regarding new technological applications but skeptical of them taking over and controlling, our lives.

Jorgenson, “The Internet of Things” in Schreibman, et al., A New Companion to Digital Humanities: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781118680605

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