DH Reads

DH Read: “‘The Brave Little Surveillance Bear’ and Other Stories We Tell About Robots Raising Children”

In the text of a talk by Audrey Watters at the New Media Consortium’s (NMC) summer 2017 conference, Watters focuses on the technologies of the home and the stories we tell about them in order to “’defamiliarize’ a discussion of education technology.” As someone who has been critical of NMC’s Horizon Project, (which, according to their website, is “designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry in education”), Watters calls for more critical engagement with the stories that get told about the histories and futures of technology. Calling attention to consumerism and emotional labor in ed-tech, she makes an important distinction between surveillance and care.

From the post:

Will a robot raise your child? Sixty years ago, when B. F. Skinner was trying to convince families and schools to buy air cribs and teaching machines, the answer from parents and teachers was overwhelmingly “No.” But now?

I’m not sure we are as resistant to the language of engineering and optimization, even in our most intimate spaces and relationships. It’s not that the technology is better either. Mostly, it’s not. New technologies, and the ideologies that underpin them, have brought the language of efficiency and productivity out of the workplace and into the classroom and into the home – into the realm of reproductive labor. Everything becomes a data-point to be tracked and quantified and analyzed and adjusted as (someone deems) necessary. Everything must be made perfectly observable, even when no human is there to watch.

Educational technologies, and any other kind of new technology for that matter, require skepticism and critical thinking, and I believe that those are things digital humanists are well-prepared for. While digital humanists may have a reputation as enthusiastic proponents of any and every new technology, I haven’t found that to be the case during my time at the Center (not that there isn’t anyone like that out there in the world). To me, digital humanities is not just about bringing digital skills and tools to humanistic inquiry; it’s also about bringing critical thinking and concern for humanity to the digital technologies that we use in our work and to the digital technologies that people use every day. Reading Watters’ post reminded me how powerful historical understanding can be in understanding the present and shaping the future and why it’s important for digital historians to stay vigilant and engaged.

Read the original post here.

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