Whose Context is This, and Do I Care?: A Look Into Technology and How it Affects Us Contextually

In our theory class this quarter, we have been reading about the way technology inserts itself into society, and what its relevance is. Today, I’d like to share with you some of the main threads of these eight readings and provide some basis for discussion around the concept of who owns context in our society.

By context, I will paraphrase Dourish in saying it is “…a concept of [continuous] action versus a social setting.” For example, if you are sitting in a restaurant, you are in a specific context. There is a social setting and decorum around being in a restaurant (social norms dictate that we usually are wearing clothing when in a public dining area like a restaurant) and the actions happening around the restaurant affect the setting (if a waiter drops a dish, people react to it, and it affects the way others act).

In our modern society today, there is a joke about whether “we control technology, or technology controls us.” This is the question that I am interested in when I talk specifically about the context of our day-to-day lives. Is technology affecting the context of our lives, and is it making it more or less meaningful?

In the following diagram, I outline the opinions expressed around these questions from the eight authors. They have varying opinions about the way technology affects us, and why this matters.

Click for the full diagram.

A trend I noticed as I was diagramming is that people who spoke of technology being the creators of context in our lives were generally talking about the modern day, while people who saw context as a product of human interactions were talking about something more future-focused. Many of the authors had a juxtaposition of both of the arguments, where they spoke of technology influencing our lives currently, and moving more towards a future where humans controlled their own outcomes.

Personally, my answer to these questions is that in some aspect, technology controls the context of our lives. I do wake up to check my e-mails, but I wouldn’t say that being productive in this case makes me happier. I am at my happiest when (using technology or not) I am figuring out a problem or creating something new out of nothing. I view technology as a partner-in-crime to humanity, in the sense that wherever we point it, we as humans can make meaning out of it. If someone tells me that Adobe Illustrator was a revolutionary program for artists, I would be dubious, but only until someone shows me the work that was produced by humans through Illustrator will I be impressed with the tool. Digital art programs have influenced the way I think about shapes, colors, and lines. But the way I think about shapes, colors, and lines and the way I draw them is also influenced by the humans that I interact with daily. I think both technology and humanity is responsible for shaping our context, but technology only becomes meaningful to other humans when they see what they can do with a technology.

I argue that as humans, we can dream beyond the constraints of technology, and push what we think technology can accomplish further towards shaping our lives in a positive way. I also think that as humans, we have to reclaim what our context means for us in our day-to-day lives and see in which parts technology makes our lives more meaningful, because in some cases, it does not.