Definition: Tool – (noun) A device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.
Often the saying, “technology is just a tool”, is said in the context of schools and learning. I (vaguely) remember writing a similar comment and being challenged regarding that same statement, but since then I have looked at technology in a different way. Based on the definitions I have read, and the way I see technology (in many cases) being used, it has the power to be so much more than a website, device, or app. If technology transforms the way we do things, is it “just a tool”?
For example, Neil Postman talks about technology being ecological and how it changes society:
Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe. After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on.
There is so much more to the “just a tool” analogy in this example. The invention of the airplane changed the way our world works and that would also fall under the realm of “technology”. Even though Louis C.K. is joking on this little bit, he does show the transformation of our world when the airplane was invented:
People like they say there’s delays on flights (yeah) delays really New York to California in 5 hours. That used to take 30 years to do that and a bunch of you would die on the way there and have a baby. You’d be with a whole different group of people by the time you got there.
If you even look at modern day technology, the invention of Google (along with prior and subsequent search engines), has really changed the way school should be taught. Why do we need to focus on content when all of the information you need is a “Google” away. Really, can schools stay the same with Google existing? It doesn’t make sense if they do.
Facebook, like it or not, is a whole different way of connecting with people. For me, it was the phone that I spent an inordinate amount of time on, but for the new generation, it’s this social network. It is not only a place you can connect with friends, but you can also share your life, play games, and even have advertising brought right to you. Like it or not, it is a technology that is transformative.
Twitter and mobile devices have also pushed the edges of the way our society exists. The recent pepper spray incident at UC Davis, still gives me shivers every time I think about it. The way news can be instantly delivered from anyone with one of these devices and a social media account, is changing how we live our lives, and is hopefully creating more accountability for all people. It is scary to think how many incidents like the UC Davis event have happened before the mass use of technology.
I guess the reason I even wrote this post in the first place, was from the inspiration of a picture. I have struggled back and forth with the idea of whether technology is just a tool, or is it truly transformative. Yes, the way people use technology is important, but again, when used in a certain way, it transforms. I am certain I may be saying something that has been said by Neil Postman and others, but again, it was a visual that inspired this post.
If my examples above haven’t swayed you, maybe the picture below will:
I just look at that picture and think it has to be more than a tool.