Thinking about technology

Issue 48: 15/12/2023

Last week we talked about how we relieve our memory by externalising our knowledge into devices that allow us to store it and retrieve it when we need it.

Writing has played this role. So have books. The same is true of our computers, of course, which are getting smaller and smaller and are always connected. They give us virtually unlimited and instant access to knowledge or, to be more precise, information, but that’s another subject. One more.

Today, I’d like to talk to you about a fundamental point, which is not the storage of thought but its production.

Rodin’s famous thinker represents the man alone, whose nudity symbolises gushing thought in all its purity. Yet mediologist Daniel Bougnoux explains that to think, to process information, to structure it, to develop it or to convey it, we need tools. We need technology, whether in the form of a pencil or a computer, and without these tools we cannot think. Concentrating on himself without the help of a book, keyboard or screen, a man alone does not think. And Bougnoux adds: “We don’t much like, and to a certain extent we don’t know how to think clearly about the technical prostheses and means (the media) by which we think. Sapiens forgets and rejects faber, even though they share the same body.

Firstly, I believe it is very important for our students to reconcile sapiens and faber. Secondly, I believe it is important for them to understand that we produce tools that shape us in return. Mediologists like to give the example of the cultural effects (the Protestant schism, the spirit of free examination, the rise of rationalism, the philosophy of the Enlightenment) of a technical invention (printing).

I can’t wait to see what the effects of machine learning, neural networks and artificial intelligence will be, and what impact they will have on education. It goes without saying that we can’t ban AI and that we need to teach students how to use it.

Yann Houry
Director of Educational Technology and Innovation