In May, I had the privilege and honour to present a session at Mount Royal University’s Liberal Education conference.

In May, I had the privilege and honour to present a session at Mount Royal University’s Liberal Education conference.

My presentation was a 30-year retrospective on Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology. Franklinewas prescient.

Franklin suggests that technology tends to displace the human and transform the nature of experience.  As technology displaces human muscle and human mind and alleviates the shortcomings of being human, the human is not so much enhanced as much as it is minimized. Franklin says,

As more and more of daily life in the real world of technology is conducted via prescriptive technologies, the logic of technology begins to overpower and displace other types of social logic, such as the logic of compassion or the logic of obligation, the logic of ecological survival or the logic of linkages to nature.

This is not just polemic. A good example of this overpowering displacement is that when, in 2007 the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published — a sharp-eyed reader noticed that around forty common words concerning nature had been dropped. Apparently they were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these “lost words” included acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow.  Among the words taking their place were attachment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, cut-and-paste, and voice-mail.

Franklin suggests we need to consider machines and devices as cohabitants on this earth, and in Simon Winchester’s The Perfectionists, he writes, “The numbers are beyond incredible. There are now more transistors at work on this planet (some 15 quintillion) than there are leaves on all the trees in the world.” This is the overpowering and displacing effect of technology.

Liberal education is also being overpowered and displaced.  Throughout this symposium, several presenters suggested that automation and liberal education can play nicely with one another.  If they can, it will only be to the extent that liberal education serves the logic of technology.  If more examples and events like this cannot be accomplished to question the logic of technology and its displacing effect, Franklin warns that the house that technology built will not become anything more than an unlivable techno-dump.  Franklin says, “I have long subscribed to what I call Franklin’s earthworm theory of social change. Social change will not come to us like an avalanche down the mountain. Social change will come through seeds growing in well prepared soil – and it is we, like the earthworms, who prepare the soil.” 

My fellow worms, let us thank MRU and MHC for preparing the soil.