Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Towards a Critical Techno-Cultural Competency: Part 2 of Solve for X

Note to Reader: This post is Part 2 of Solve for X, a running blog post theme on adopting (poorly) theories from critical cultural studies, health studies, social psychology, and sociology to explore techno-culture. Part I can be found here.   

Critical Techno-Cultural Competency: A loaded academic turn of phrase to be sure. What does it mean…if anything? Our task here is to begin to configure this puzzle. 

Now we could spend an inordinate amount of time debating definitions, yet I am leaning here on the latitude of the blog format. Let's not get so caught up in the defining that we neglect to do the doing. Yet a foundation this house of theoretical cards needs.

Critical. The tertiary definition fits our needs best: exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation.

Technology. If this seems far too simplistic, blame the folks at Oxford Dictionary. The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry: "computer technology"; "recycling technologies"; Machinery and equipment developed from such scientific knowledge.

Culture. Take a spin here and marvel at the many (many) definitions. Here is the short form: the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations; the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a group.

Competence. Here again the third node captures the heart of the matter: the knowledge that enables a person to speak and understand a language.

A critical techno-cultural competency then…(deep breath)…is the knowledge and skill that enables a person to “speak” and understand techno-languages, while exercising careful judgment and engaging in judicious evaluation of the application of scientific knowledge for various purposes (including machinery and equipment from such scientific knowledge), as integrated into the knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, social forms, and material traits of human groups.  

These notions can be applied to both technology producers and consumers; in fact, in some ways, under these auspices, they are one in the same.

[Reader: Take a stab at it and post your version in the comments section below. This is a noun string nightmare. The winning entrant’s phrase will appear in my research methods writing course for the pain and amusement of undergraduate student minds – more likely pain than amusement.

As to the "why this matters" bit? Short answer: The development and deployment of critical techno-cultural competencies might mean technologies that more seamlessly integrate, in positive beneficial ways, into the lives of users…improving life and health outcomes…enriching culture through techno-social interconnection…or at least help us stride a wee bit closer toward those shifting goal posts. First and foremost in this task is to help incubate environments that will grow technologies in the developing world, with a directed goal toward transforming the lives of those who do so much of the heavy lifting of globalization.  Enter your favorite Transhumanist narratives here.  

So the question is not: “Do you speak tech?”

The question is: “Which dialects of tech do you speak?”

So many critical questions cascade in its wake. 
  • Who, when, where, and how do you speak those techno-dialects?
  • How does that influence your relationships with technologies?
  • How does this weave into your traditional identity lines including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religious affiliations, geographic environmental experiences, and sub-cultural affiliations? 
In Part 3, we will continue to explore these questions and the critical cultural studies concepts of assimilation, acculturation, marginalization, and separation in terms of techno-human integration or the importance of a proper whiskey in the writing process. 


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