We see ourselves as critical friends of technology. We believe we can find ways to enjoy the
fruits of technology without being diminished by it. It is possible to use technology with
pleasure and grace if we make thoughtful decisions in the context of our "local habitations,"
to borrow Shakespeare's phrase. By this we mean settings in which we as individuals have
an active role, a unique and valuable local perspective, and a say in what happens. For most
of us, this means our workplaces, schools, homes, libraries, hospitals, community centers,
churches, clubs, and civic organizations. For some of us, it means a wider sphere of
influence. All of us have local habitations in which we can reflect on appropriate uses of
technology in light of our local practices, goals, and values.
We call these local habitations "information ecologies," since they have so much in common
with biological ecologies, as we will discuss. Because the goal of this book is to change the
way people look at technology in their own settings, we adopted a metaphor that
emphasizes local connections and offers scope for diverse reflections and analyses. We
believe that we have leverage to affect technological change by acting in spheres where we
have knowledge and authority - our own information ecologies. A key to thoughtful action is
to ask many more "know-why" questions than we typically do. Being efficient, productive,
proactive people, we often jump to the "know-how" questions, which are considerably easier
to answer. In this book we talk about practical ways to have more "know-why"
conversations, to dig deeper, and reflect more about the effects of the ways we use
The phrase "local habitations" helps us understand settings of technology use in a new and
useful way. Fritz Lang's beautiful film Metropolis is another source of insight for us.
Metropolis engages some of our collective fears about our society's dependence on
technological invention. The film presents a view of technology as a seductive, untamable
force that undermines our humanity. In 1926, Lang sensed the way technology would keep
apart heart and mind, the way people would heedlessly focus on technical development for
its own sake while evading the social questions of what purpose technology serves in human
Rotwang, the unforgettable mad scientist in Metropolis, created the ultimate robot, a
creature possessed of full human intelligence. Lang recognized the deep love that goes into
technical creation - the robot was created in the image of Rotwang's beloved dead mistress.
Rotwang refused to consider how such a robot might be used for evil, and indeed, heartless
forces of capitalism harness the powers of Maria, the robot. It is important that we
understand the message Lang was sending us: we love our technologies and we are
endlessly technically creative, but our creations can betray us. Rotwang was too entranced
with his invention to consider the possible human consequences. As J. Robert Oppenheimer
said of the development of the hydrogen bomb, the mere fact of the possibility of creating
the bomb "was technically so sweet that you could not argue about that" [
We believe that we can and should argue about how technology is created and used. Lang
suggested in Metropolis that technical sweetness is not enough. Technology development
and use must be mediated by the human heart.
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