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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

What is technology?

Brad DeLong:  " is not devices and practices, but, rather, collective tacit knowledge about what to do in certain kinds of situations and how to solve certain kinds of problems--situations and problems for which there is no comprehensive cookbook, or if there is a cookbook it is of use only if you and your peers already know how to cook. Michael Polanyi's "tacit knowledge..."

...channeling Ricardo Hausman
"...The problem is that a key component of technology is knowhow, which is an ability to perform a task. And knowhow, unlike devices and ideas, neither involves nor can be acquired through comprehension... tacit knowledge.... Technology has trouble diffusing because much of it requires knowhow, which is an ability to recognize patterns and respond with effective actions.... Knowhow moves to new areas when the brains that hold it move there. Once there, they can train others. Moreover, now that knowhow is becoming increasingly collective, not individual, diffusion is becoming even slower.... Cities, regions, and countries can absorb technology only gradually, generating growth through some recombination of the knowhow that is already in place, maybe with the addition of some component – a bassist to complete a string quartet. But they cannot move from a quartet to a philharmonic orchestra in one fell swoop.... Progress happens by moving into what the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman calls the “adjacent possible”... technology does not diffuse because of the nature of technology itself."

I always tell my classes that technology is what we know about how to do things, that sometimes what we know is embodied by (embedded in) machines and tools, but the most important aspects of any technology are what we, individually and collectively, know.


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