Can technologies be neutral?
This question, which we discussed in Networked Media Symposium 8.0, was a tricky one. To be able to answer the question, we first need to decide on what actually is neutral.
Let’s start off by actually looking at the definitions, and see if they can help.
“not supporting or helping either side… impartial.”
“having no strongly marked or positive characteristics or features.”
Source: Google define
Okay, so that gives a general idea of neutral, but in relation to a technology (remember, they aren’t only digital), their are many more interpretations.
Neutrality is unmotivated and unaffected by other factors. This statement assumes that there are things that exist that can continue to exist without the influence of anything else. For this to be true, there must be things that are completely independent. We tried long and hard to think of something that matched this criteria, but to no avail. The closest I came to a solution were binary matches; light and dark, for example. One could argue that darkness exists as itself, but without light there is no understanding of what is dark. Without day we can not define night.
Angus brought up a very notable point; that nothing we know is neutral, yet things exist that we are unaware of, which have not yet had influence. Before people knew that there were other galaxies in the universe, the other galaxies were neutral to us. That’s just it though, to us. Now, there is the sense that neutrality is contextual, dependent on culture and exposure. An African tribe living in solitude, without access to and fully unaware of the iPhone 6, are neutral towards it. However, as soon as they are exposed, curiosity is triggered, their way of thinking is affected, and thus the iPhone to them is no longer neutral. By being exposed to something new, the reaction may not be as loaded, but it is still a reaction none the less.
Here’s another way of looking at it all. Anything that I bring to my own attention can not be neutral, as it is therefore having an effect on me. For example: A 50 year old man in Italy is making a bank transaction. You’re thinking, so what, how could that possibly effect me? But now that I am talking about it, by bringing it to attention, you and I have both just been influenced. I can’t read your mind, but I can tell you what has now sparked in mine: Where in Italy? I’d love to go visit Rome again. I wonder if he was using PayPass, that’s some pretty great new technology we have. I wonder how much money is in my account at the moment? I feel like some pizza now. Actually, modern pizza was invented in New York, not Italy. Was it? Now I’m not sure. I’ll google it. Open internet – Facebook check. Cool, the All Australian team has been released! … And so on.
Anything that we consciously talk about or think about is influencing opinion and kickstarting a chain reaction of thoughts. If neutrality means no influence, then nothing we are consciously aware of is neutral.
I always like to accompany my posts with an image, as it visually stimulates the reader and aids memory. But if I were to insert a neutral picture, I couldn’t really put in a picture at all. The face below supposedly is of ‘neutral expression’. As discussed in my previous post Jigsaw Writing, which speaks about the Kuleshov Effect, it shows that no expression is contextualised to form a percieved expression. Depending on your mood the picture below might be angry. Or bored. I view it as tired, probably because I’ve been awake since 7am and studying all day. The consumer
To answer the question that began this rant; no, technologies can not be neutral.