Technology and Contemporary Life (HPSS S576)
The Rhode Island School of Design, Wintersession 2003
Final Exam -- Roger B. Blumberg

The purpose of this exam is to have you bring together some of your thoughts about the semester's readings, the discussions we've had, and the ideas you've written about in your journals, in the context of an interpretation and analysis of particular questions and themes concerning technology. To encourage you to think a while about the topic you've chosen, before you begin writing, you'll have at least 90 minutes to write just one essay (chosen from the three essay questions/topics below).

Technology and Freedom. Like automobile commercials in the pre-desktop age, computer ads often promote an equation between technology and freedom (e.g. Microsoft's "Where do you want to go today?!" and IBM's "Where do you get your best thinking done?"). Indeed, there is an obvious sense in which technologies big and small "free" people from the necessity of certain tasks, and make possible activities that were not possible before. On the other hand, the relationship between technology and freedom sometimes appears problematic when we consider how technology transforms the personal, social and political worlds in which we move; in light of these transformations we might question whether the "freedom" technology makes possible is or should be of real value to us.

In a short essay, discuss how three of the authors we've read this semester would analyze the relationship between technology and freedom. Your essay will conclude with your own view(s) about the relationship, and what meaningful distinctions we should make between kinds of technologies and kinds of freedom in discussing this theme.

Technology and Kant's Questions. In the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that the three questions with which all reason is concerned are:

  1. What can I know?
  2. What ought I to do?
  3. For what may I hope?

These three questions have informed and perhaps determined the study and practice of Western philosophy ever since Kant. One question that philosophers of technology find interesting is how/whether technology itself influences our interpretation of these questions and what we take to be acceptable answers to them.

In a short essay, discuss the ways that the perspectives of three of the authors we've read this semester can be used to argue that changes in technology do in fact transform the meaning of (and consequently the acceptable/reasonable answers to) Kant's questions. Your essay will conclude with your own opinion of whether such transformations are necessary and/or good.

Technology and Skill. In our discussions of the relationship between craft and technique, several people noted that "skill" seemed to play a crucial role in the former in a way it did not in the latter. But in the essay by Dreyfus and Spinosa there is a discussion of the relationship between skill and technology that might make us question whether an attention to "skill" will help us preserve craft and/or resist the effects of technique (in the sense proposed by Ellul). In the discussion of writing, the authors note:

"... the dangerous seduction of technological devices becomes obvious. Because the word processor makes writing easy for desiring subjects and this ease in writing solicits us to enter discourses rather than produce finished works, the word processor attached to the Net solicits us to substitute it for pens and typewriters, thereby eliminating the equipment and the skills that were appropriate for modern subject/object practices. It takes a real commitment to focal practices based on stable subjects and objects to go on writing personal letters with a fountain pen and to insist that papers written on the word processor must reach an elegant finish. If the tendency to rely completely on the flexibility of technological devices is not resisted, we will be left with only one kind of writing implement promoting one style of practice, namely those of endless transformation and enhancement.

In a short essay, and using the specific ideas and perspectives of three of the authors we've read this semester, elaborate a theory of the relationship between technology and skill. You need not agree with the authors you discuss (i.e. they need not agree with your theory), but your essay should make clear how your view is related to those of the authors you cite.

A gentle reminder that the authors we've read this semester include: Ullman, Ellul, Marx, Benjamin, Hayles, Lyotard, Baudrillard, and Dreyfus & Spinosa.

Thanks for all your patience with and hard work for this class

Back to the TCL Syllabus

© 2003 Roger B. Blumberg