As the 2008 political season so energetically demonstrated, new information technology is powerful and presents exciting new possibilities for human connection and societal change. This series will explore how technology mediates much of our experience of the world, and permeates the important relationships in our lives.
February 2: Intimacy with Machines
Machines have amplified our abilities, relieved us of drudgery and danger, and enriched the material aspects of our lives. As the Industrial Revolution quickly demonstrated, machines can also be intrusive, oppressive, and even dehumanizing. Over the past hundred years, however, new technologies have emerged that test our notions of what machines are and how we relate to them. Today our best machines seem made of sunshine: nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, and slices of the spectrum. By weaving patterns of light, these devices erode the boundaries between nature and technology, mind and body, person and machine. This session will examine our increasingly intimate relationship with machines and how they are changing our lives and ultimately, who we are.
February 9: Living in Plato's Cave
Has our growing intimacy with machines thrust us into a modern version of Plato’s Cave where, Socrates tells us, prisoners mistook shadows on a wall for reality? We, of course, are not in chains, and the technology of Socrates’ cave with its statues and firelight is primitive compared to multimedia computers. Still, if he were here today, Socrates might make us uncomfortable with questions about modern life. While we connect electronically with countless people in novel ways, we reach most of them only at computer’s length. By attending so intently to the flickering images on our computer screens, are we turning our backs on true social life? This session will explore questions about our growing dependency on virtual interaction and the effect of that relationship on human societal relationships.
G. Anthony Gorry is the Friedkin Chair of Management at Rice University and director of Rice’s Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning. The center is developing computing and telecommunications for sharing knowledge in schools, universities, the work place, and the home. Dr. Gorry’s research concerns the impact of technology on society.
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