School and technological somnambulism

There has been for the past week or so a debate here in Sweden about some schools using tablets extensively. The debate started after a big daily in Sweden ran a story about schools and even kindergartens in one municipality using tablets extensively . Their goal is no school books by 2013. One school even introducing them in year one, and pen and paper not until year two [article in English]. One headmaster even claimed to believe pens and pencils will be gone in the future.

The article triggered a lot of comments and articles, pro and con. The Minister of Education, Jan Björklund, criticized it strongly. I am certainly no fan of his, but at least he had some points there. Saying yes to modern technology doesn't mean throwing "the olde stuff" out completely. A number of critics thought the minister is backward, and some even started collecting money for him to get a tablet. Quite many also thought the tabletization was just another silly and expensive trend.

Quite many, not least in authority positions, have a very half baked idea of technology. A very passive-consumerist one. They think of it as "modern" (a key concept in Swedish politics and also culture). The computer (including tablets etc) is a tool, a very cool tool, and a gadget. But what does it do to us? And who controls it? Not many seem to ask that.

It is not a question if computers or tablets have a place in school or not, but what place they have. And what are their use. I am also not totally convinced to expose small children to more electrosmog than necessary.

The gadget-lovers listen too much on salesmen and proprietary evangelists, as well as "friends" in their "networks". The pupils and teachers are given choice only between different proprietary OSes and softwares, and associated locked hardware. If choice is given at all. It's basically the same frame of mind that gave slogans like "we must increase the public's computer literacy and competence", and then spent tax money on giving courses on Microsoft products, and buying their products, too. That was the case in Sweden at least, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some were of course monopolists on purpose, but many just have a rather naive-optimistic idea of technology, modernity, trendiness, tools, learning and power.

The half-bakedness promotes the ideal consumer who is buying things and buying into things. Why not quote Alexander Pope:

"A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again."

When I read about this, yet-another-proprietary-technology-solves-the-problem discourse, I remembered a concept I read about some twenty years ago: Technological somnambulism. I think it was in this article, now behind JSTOR's pay wall. Now that is science for you. A wall even for the original writers of articles. Aaron Swartz downloaded and shared a lot of stuff without any personal profit. He faces ridiculous charges for what basically is a promotion of science. There are nowadays no reasons of technology nor distribution that limits the free publication of academic papers. Just greed. Professor Gecko?

But I digress... the term technological somnambulism was coined by Langdon Winner in the 1980's.

I do not know if Richard Stallman has ever discussed anything in terms of technological somnambulism, but he has tirelessly and consequentially for a long time fought against proprietization of software, and questioned who is in control of the software and the software ecosystems we use and live in. I have online found Stallman and Langdon on the same reading lists for university courses, so maybe they have communicated or commented each other. If someone has a references for any such, I would be grateful for pointers 🙂

"While corps dominate society and write the laws, each advance in tech is an opening for them to further restrict its users" (Stallman's Law)

I wonder how many policymakers, bureaucrats and pedagogues ever gave such things a thought?

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