In this week’s lecture, the discussion primarily revolved around the concept of neutral technologies. Looking to my notes, the very first thing I’d scribbled down was ‘what does a neutral media mean?’ A good place to start, one would think. Scanning through however, I found myself lacking in a definitive answer. Adrian outlined the fact that ‘technology has affordances’ and that ‘nothing exists independently.’ I agree with these statements completely, however I was still somewhat confused as to what a ‘neutral technology’ actually was. I suppose it is difficult to define as it is unclear if a neutral technology can ever truly exist, also too because it is a mostly subjective matter.
We continued the analysis the following day in our tutorial, and the meaning of the concept became clearer. To my understanding, if ‘neutral technologies,’ should exist, they do not motivate cultural movement or change, nor have positive or negative effect over a society. We also established the idea that technologies can mean different things to different people – some devices may seem neutral to particular cultural groups whilst grossly influential over others. This I found particularly interesting as I began to research isolated tribes and consider how they remain unchanged by technologies we rely upon on a daily basis.
Consider the most isolated tribe in the world, the Sentinelese – indigenous people of the Andaman Islands of India. They live in complete seclusion from the rest of the world, and are most noted for their resistance to contact from outsiders. The tribe follow very traditional and out-dated means of living and actively maintain a hunter-gather society. This in itself indicates how their relationship to modern technologies is seemingly neutral. The tribe remain unknowing, by choice, of so many technologies that we utilise everyday – proper housing, cooking and cleaning utensils, cars, phones, computers etc. If you were to hand them an iPhone, I am sure they would have no idea of its purpose or function. Obviously, this piece of technology much more neutral for them than it is for western culture. Considering it from this perspective, you could assume technologies/ideas are neutral until we discover/understand them.
This is merely one way you could look at neutral technologies.