Jeremy Pettitt on Communication and Culture

Technology As A Way Of Thinking

Posted on October 24, 2016

Most people tend to think of technology as simply hardware. Our TV’s are technology. Our laptops are technology. Our smartphones are technology. Even the apps on our smartphone are technology. But is technology simply hardware (devices) and software (the applications and programs that we run on those devices)? Or is understanding technology more complicated than that?

In fact, there are a wide variety of definitions for technology:

"The application of science"

"The purposeful application of information in the design, production, and utilization of goods and services, and in the organization of human activities."

"the collection of techniques, methods or processes used in the production of goods or services..."

While all of these definitions recognize that technology includes tools, they also realize that technology is a way of thinking and acting.

photoWhen Henry Ford first created the assembly line in 1913, the tools needed to build a car were already available. So how did Henry make Ford the fastest growing company of his time? He thought technologically. In doing so, he created a technological system/process that we now refer to as the assembly line. By having workers specialize in a particular area, he sped up the process. By moving the construction of the automobile down a line, he reduced unnecessary movements making the process more efficient and ultimately requiring fewer workers thus reducing his cost per automobile. This technological way of thinking (“the assembly line”) was then applied to other industries like food service (think McDonald's hamburgers), household goods, and eventually electronics.

But if technology is a way of thinking, how do we learn to think technologically? I would argue that, at this point in history, we learn from our devices themselves. In fact, young people today have been referred to as “Digitals” because they have grown up with technology embedded in their culture. They have come to think technologically on a regular basis.

Don’t believe me? Then perform this experiment: Next time you buy a new piece of tech, find a young person you know and ask if they have your new device. If they say “no”, hand it to them and ask them to perform a task (like “Can you find me an app that will help me plan my menu for the month” or “Can you create an icon on my device that links to my favorite blog?”) In general, even though they have never picked up your device before, they will usually be able to perform the task you requested in a short period of time. Why? Because their brains have already been acclimated and enculturated to think technologically.

This “app" type thinking is at the core of Howard Gardner and Katie Davis’ book The App Generation. They discuss how technology has begun to reshape young people’s minds using the language of apps. While they focus on three key issues (identity, intimacy, and imagination) facing young people in our digital age, they are primarily concerned with the idea that students use apps to enable the kind of exploration and creativity that these new tools and mindsets can foster. They express concern that students can become “app dependent” allowing the technology to do the heavy lifting both mentally and emotionally, thus fostering shallow thinking, predetermined creative outcomes, and stunted emotional development. In the end, they recognize that living an “app enabled’ life will require focus and work.

We must begin to challenge our students to acknowledge that their technology affects their ways of thinking including their learning and growth. Once they have begun to examine technology's impact on them, our students can begin to decide on its appropriate role in shaping them. With these clear goals in mind, they will be able to more wisely utilize technology on their journey to becoming both mature adults and faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

I would love to hear your feedback regarding this post. Leave me a comment and I will respond as soon as I can.

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