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Sennet: Passive relation to technology

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It's true that there are ways in which not having to think about one thing frees us to think about something else. But against that, I'd say the problem is this, that when we make something, we have to think about what we're making. And when we encounter resistance, difficulty, our address to those sorts of challenges makes us more skilled. If you take a project and you take someone else's model for your own behaviour, you become just as good as what you're programmed to be. You never build up skills. So using social networking sites, for instance, you don't actually build up skills of friendships, because the level of competence is predetermined by the programme.
This is an important issue when we think about cooperation, real-world cooperation about demanding projects. If we just think that the media tools that we're using are just sort of passive instruments, we're really succumbing to a kind of hidden logic in those tools, which says that you're going to get no more skilled at communication than what has been set into the programme. My concern about all of this is that a passive relation to technology ultimately is de-skilling to the user. That's why I've become so interested in the whole question about craftsmanship. And my belief is that there's something we can learn from material craftsmanship that will help us understand better how to engage with and become better craftsmen in using very new kinds of tools, which are largely disembodied. They're screen tools rather than hand tools. Which means that we have to rethink things like user-friendliness, whether this is really an overarching goal. When we want a tool to be user-friendly, i.e., that someone else did the thinking for us, and when we want tools that are more open, more indeterminate, and more difficult to use, but in which we built up a skill in ourselves by addressing that difficulty.

Added on 19 Apr 2017

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