An advertising campaign for a new model from a French car manufacturer recently carried the tagline 'Technology as it should be. 100% useful.' (Citroën 2001). This claim is supported by talk of 19 integrated computers digitally interpreting the environment, with automatically adjusting suspension, automatic headlight and windscreen wiper activation, rain-sensitive window closing, and a tyre pressure warning system, together with the usual braking assistance and traction control. Whether individual drivers see all this technology as being of positive benefit in enabling them to concentrate on the driving experience or, alternatively, view it as removing them still further from the reality of that experience says something about where they stand in relation to developments in automotive technology. That both perspectives have their place is in part recognised by the manufacturer in that systems such as anti-lock braking and traction control can typically be switched off by the driver.
However, in comparison to the car, information technology is considerably more complex, increasingly insinuated throughout all aspects of Western life, making it impossible for an individual, or even a community, to switch off or opt out. Furthermore, in just the same way as a car has imprinted into it a range of social principles and ideals — private versus public ownership, presumptions about family size, status, environmental attitudes, and so on (Webster 1995, 10) — so too information technology, as well as being itself embedded in society, has embedded in it an even greater range of social values. As archaeologists, we should be aware of these values, as in one way or another, they become the taken-for-granteds that underlie much of what we do.
© Internet Archaeology
Last updated: Wed Jan 28 2004