Seeking salvation in tools alone

All semester we have attempted to design tools that satisfy the perceived criteria for “alternative” technology. However, we have never failed to mention that reform does not lie in tools alone.

For example, if one wanted to design a community-driven transportation service to replace cars/taxis, one would have to consider social incentives and legislation to put in place for having neighbors have an equal time-share of having to drive their neighbors around regardless of class and wealth.

In Morozov’s article, we hear about how Lee Felsenstein, influenced by Illich’s Tools of Conviviality, tries to create a device that is easy to learn, understand, and repair making experts unnecessary and decentralizing power. He installs a handful of terminals in public spaces across the Bay allowing local residents to communicate anonymously — a truly “social media.”

If we look at the purpose of the newspaper and the role it played in decentralizing power during the American Revolution, it is one similar to that of Felsenstein’s “free speech terminals.” However, with time, political and economical systems redirected the power over the newspapers allowing people with more money and social influence to buy ink on a page.

Instead of building tools to deinstitutionalize society, Morozov believes we should try pushing reform to “secure the transparency and decentralization of power” we associates with our favorite technology.

Does this mean maker culture belongs in politics? Must every tool we design to power the people come with accompanying legislation?