The Truth Between “Truths”

One of the themes we have visited repeatedly in this class over the past six weeks is that while there are frequently two sides to every story, we rarely favor one side over the other. Was Frankenstein or his monster to blame for the tragedies? It turns out they both had a part to play. Who killed Aramis? Not any one person involved in its development. Should we look at the relationship between culture and technology from the standpoint of cultural determinism or technological determinism? By focusing solely on either one, you miss a large part of the story. In every case, every discussion, there are two or more clearly defined sides, but the truth of every story invariably lived somewhere between all of them.

It’s really easy for humans to reduce any problem to an “us vs. them” mentality. Once something has been reduced to that, the solution simply becomes ignoring or destroying “them” and doing what’s best for “us”. Even Connection, which we watched at the beginning of this class, illustrates this. A tree of nature is shown, and the human being leaps off the tree and creates a divide between the tree and humanity. Immediately, humans are defined as “us” and nature as “them”, and nature is named our enemy to be enslaved or destroyed to suit our needs. This is indicative of the problem solving strategies of our race in general. Very rarely do we look to compromise with our enemies, we seek complete and utter victory for “us” and hold little regard for “them”. But what happens when “us” and “them” are a self-imposed dichotomy, like us vs. nature, and we’re really part of the same whole? Environmental devastation, the extinction of species of plants and animals, and pollution on frightening scales. We viewed nature as a force to overcome rather than an ally to work with, and as a result we damaged parts of an ecosystem that we ourselves rely on. Today, we understand this a little more, and have been working to walk in tandem with nature rather than against it. This is one example of many, though, and our “us vs. them” mentality to problem solving is still a very real problem.

The one thing I think I’ve taken from my time in this class over anything else is that I have learned to seek the middle ground in any conflict. Whenever two sides disagree about something, each side has at least part of the truth of the story. Cultural and technological determinism are two conflicting world views, but by studying both instead of subscribing wholly to one theory, we are able to see how culture and technology influence and evolve each other in tandem. On a much smaller scale, when two friends are arguing about something, however inconsequential it may be, neither friend is going to tell you the whole truth about what happened. You would need to consider both sides equally before being fit to begin attempting to piece together the true story. And while it may happen in the end that Friend A had 90% of the real story and Friend B only had 10, that ten percent is still an important fragment of the truth and should be considered. Moving forward in my life, I want to remember to carefully consider all sides of a conflict before I choose a side. Sometimes, if you do this, you’ll forge your own path right through the middle ground.

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Broaden the Horizons

I remember when Wall-E first came out in theaters, I had zero interest in spending any money to go see it. It’s Pixar, and Pixar could rarely ever go wrong, but the movie didn’t quite reel me in. If the movie were brought up, I couldn’t help but wonder how a a robot could entertain me for two hours. Well, after watching the movie in our class this past week, it became utterly evident that my pessimism might as well have been slapped in the face.

Unlike much of our generations population, my technology-related habits are pathetically limited. I’m no caveman living under a rock, but I stick to the basics when it comes to technology. After reading Bruno Latour’s “Love Your Monsters”article, and finally watching a movie (that, when brought up in conversation, the people who had seen it bore puppy dog faces) the notion of ‘loving our monsters’ has become less vague. The braided intertwining of nature and our technology has grown more clear-cut in my mind. On page 3 of Latour’s article, he states, “Like France’s parks, all of Nature needs our constant care, our undivided attention, our costly instruments, our hundreds of thousand of scientists, our huge institutions, our careful funding. But though we have Nature, and we have nurture, we don’t know what it would mean for Nature itself to be nurtured.” It came to mind that our technologies are to be treated, guided, and appreciated as if they were our babies from our own wombs. We create all of this technology, its almost a natural part of society today, however we could forget about the consequences that tag along. We are not dominating nature, and grasping control, if we do not care for the technological concoctions we use day after day. As Slack and Wise note in their Culture and Technology narrative, “Whenever we’ve thought we understood nature, nature comes roaring back” (pg. 56). The reciprocation of love between two actors is pertinent for technology to not be so destructive.

After reading all of the class texts, and especially after watching Wall-E, I took a double take on the care I take for my souls of technology . I knew they wouldn’t lash back at me by running around, strangling everybody that I love, but I could see the kinks in my guardianship. My iPhone constantly has notifications on it for updates, and I never fully exit out of the apps I use– both of which tamper with the battery life, amongst other things. I learned it slows down my phone as well. These things are red flags in my mind now, and although it isn’t as dangerous as Dr. Frankenstein’s consequences, my iPhone is a major part of my life– and upping its care has taken some burden off.

Wall-E also put my perspective of caring technology on a completely different tangent. Towards the end, when the captain begins asking his computer to look up things about earth, like ‘dancing,’ I was baffled. He lives off of technology. His entire life is run by it. But between having it feed, clothe, and live his life, he never used it to enhance his knowledge about the planet he comes from. In the world we live in, technology is a natural factor. We can’t think of a world otherwise. Caring for this part of our life is crucial, and a subsequent act of caring is appreciation. I want to delve much further into this technological world than just the top layer of skin that I am in now. By caring for our technology, we should milk it for what its worth. It’s an engrained part of life, and should never be abandoned.

 

Note(s) to Self

I got some fantastic news yesterday.  I found out that once I finish this six week summer session I will return home to an exciting internship.  It’s going to be an amazing experience for sure, but I’m quite nervous at the same time.  I’m going to be one of three people tasked with setting up a building to store and ship DEA controlled substances.  This seems like a very daunting task to me and with that in mind I will take the rest of this blog post to lay out some thoughts and reminders for my future self for when I start this internship.

1) Remember the importance of connection

If there is one thing that Narrative and Technology has tried to teach you it’s the importance of connection.  Human and non-human actors are constantly in motion, affecting everything they bump into, including each other.  They perform a marvelous synchronized swimming routine.  It would be a shame to get too focused on one of the swimmers in the routine and miss the big picture wouldn’t it?  So always be sure to think.  How will your action of choosing and installing an emergency generator affect everything else?  The budget, floor space, wiring, these will all be affected by what you choose and where you decide to put that generator.  This brings up another important aspect of connection, namely, that you are not excluded from it.  Don’t forget that you are part of the assemblage that will make up this project.  This means you are connected with others that can help you through this translation.  The old phrase “no man is an island” rings quite true and is important to take to heart.  You won’t always have the answers to all the problems you face, but if you use your coworkers’ knowledge and the all the materials you have at your disposal you will definitely be able to find the answer you need.

2) Remember to love your monsters

Latour, Slack, and Wise all agreed on one thing.  You cannot take humans, or in this case you specifically, out of the equation.  One thing Latour made clear in Love Your Monsters is that you need to take responsibility for your creations unlike Dr. Frankenstein.  You cannot simply make something and then detach yourself from the consequences that follow.  What I’m trying to say is that there will be times coming up quite soon where you may very well fail.  You might make a small mistake or you might somehow manage to blow up the entire facility (please don’t do that).  Regardless of what monster you make, be sure to take care of it.  Learn from it, grow from it, and push forward with more determination to get the rest of the job done right.  Even if everything goes exactly according to plan and you make it through with no mistakes you still aren’t off the hook.  Frankenstein succeeded with his creation and things still ended up horribly because he didn’t care for his creation.  Do not make that same mistake.

3) Try to look at problems from a different perspective

Narrative and Technology may not have been your favorite class in the world, but it was important.  It dealt out quite a few lessons on how to look at things from different angles.  While engineering is what you’re used to, that doesn’t mean there is going to be an engineering solution every time a problem arises during your internship this summer.  In fact, seeing how you will be working on a project that is planted firmly in the realm of pharmaceuticals, you may want to spend some time brushing up on DEA rules and regulations as that will be critical for your job.  Sure, you will need to think about how you are going to install a refrigeration unit that will be used to store materials below room temperature, but you need to think about what materials you are storing as well.  What is their controlled temperature range?  Can they be easily accessed by unauthorized employees or visitors?  These are essential parts of the process, so don’t just think like an engineer, think like a DEA agent as well.

 

With all that being said, I’m sure you will do fine.  You are me after all and I’m pretty awesome so there shouldn’t be too much trouble.  Just try to keep those three points in mind and hopefully they will help you avoid any type of terrible events during your internship.  Get ready.  This is going to be a bit of a bumpy ride.

Who would have thought.

“I will probably never use this information again.” I thought as I walked toward the cathedral on my first day of class. I am a senior engineering student taking a summer English literature course. How is this going to be important for what I will do the rest of my life? Although I still asked the same question a few more times during this semester in frustration, I found that this class on Narrative and Technology would create a strong impact on my viewpoint towards engineering and technology.

I had an engineering class similar to this called sustainability, which I mentioned before on my previous posts. This class aimed at the same technological and environmental issues we dealt with in this course, but it had a different approach. It was solely taught with an environmentalism viewpoint. The course described all of the horrible things society has done to the environment, and the goal was to find the ways to analyze the damage. There was no talk about how to fix the problems or how to begin all of the changes needed to make a difference. When asked by the students on how we are going to solve this whole problem, the professors would just say that it was classified as a “wicked problem”, which meant that it was extremely complex and no one could solve it yet. We constantly watched documentaries and wrote reports basically saying how technology is ruining the world. Most of the time my classmates and I walked out of the class saying, “Well, that was depressing” and had no positive path to solve this problem.  I felt like I got nothing out of it.

So when I realized we were going to talk about these issues again in this class, I began to groan. It was such a relief though to realize that a different approach was going to be used instead. The book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley gave a solid introduction to the issue at hand, and began to illustrate the theme of taking care of your technology or “Loving Your Monsters”. Bruno Latour helped me see the interactions between humans and technology through translation and the actor network approach. Slack and Wise further described these theories with agency and assemblages. Keywords and discussions in class kept me constantly thinking about what I have read, and most of the time I left with a headache.

All of these ideas came together with the final piece from “Love Your Monsters”. The authors of Love Your Monsters had a Postenvironmental view on technology issues. Finally there were people that I completely agreed with! It was no longer a piece lecturing you to become a vegetarian and telling you how bad technology is. Their ideas revolved on taking care and fine tuning current technology and technology of the future. They encouraged technological growth, along with “continuing to care for unwanted consequences.” It was multidimensional thinking from all of these authors mentioned above that made me understand these issues.

So even though I may not be the best at making movies or writing in an English literature style, I got a lot out of this class. The master/slave dialect keeps me from being a zombie on my phone, Latour’s actor network theory gave me a valuable tool for solving very complex problems, and the postenvironmentalism take on technology gives me hope for earth’s future as well as mine.

Creators or Healers and the Autopsy of Aramis

 In my critical response paper, I proposed using the metaphor of a doctor-patient relationship between man and technology rather than the deity-creation, or parent-child relationship that has been implied in the texts we’ve read so far. The deity-creation metaphor is actually explicitly used in Frankenstein, when the creature meets with Victor, “Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.”  (69)The biblical references and use of “thou” and “thy” make it clear the relationship that Shelley wants the reader to make between Frankenstein and the creature.

Latour says that Aramis was dead but not murdered, where murder could be defined as an intentional killing not done in self-defense, and I can’t imagine a situation where a parent or deity would allow their creation to die without some amount of culpability. Even if you argued that neglect could fall under that definition, Aramis was obviously not killed by neglect. Nobody simply gave up on Aramis and let it rot on the vine; people were working hard to make Aramis tangible right up until the end.  

I more imagine Aramis as a patient that a disease and a team of doctors working to cure it. They perhaps remain steadfast in their belief that the patient has on disease, say lupus, and treat based upon that. If they’re wrong, then the patient may die, but no one would argue that that is murder. It’s a misdiagnosis.

In Aramis,it’s revealed that a project like Aramis should of been treated as a research project , but the engineers, in their rigidity, couldn’t see that. They had an idea of what research was, “…throwing money out the window” (282), and couldn’t see that they were actually performing a bastardized sort of research. The problem was that this blindness didn’t allow for the flexibility and creativity that pure research demands; they didn’t “negotiate”.  They were the clichéd arrogant doctors; misdiagnosing because they are blinded by their own hubris.

I think that when Latour says, “I’m not going to reveal the truth, unveil the guilty party, or unmask anyone. We get the truth only in novels, and this isn’t a novel.” (289), he’s saying that there is no gotcha moment or neatly wrapped up ending.  He also says, “Here is our mistake, one we all made, the only one we made. You had a hypersensitive project and you treated it as if you could get it through on its own steam.”(292) It says to me that Latour implies a boneheaded approach, and not a malicious intent, as the cause of death. Though I can’t prove or disprove it, I have the notion that Latour thinks that some of Aramis’ demise could be attributed to zemblanity and that Aramis could have had a very different fate in a slightly different universe.

A Dead Soul

When first putting a connection between the two of Latour’s statements, the phrase, ‘my soul is dead,’ comes to mind. A person can be up and running– a completely functioning flesh and bones being, however he/she could feel like his/her insides have literally shut down. I’ve come to notice that some people let the realities of life take them over. If somebody has a bad day, or does badly in school, it leads to a 180, and the person’s world as he/she knows it is over. That is because, as Latour says, “reality sets anyone who looks for it to quaking all over.” A person, just like a piece of technology, can just be inanimate. However, unlike the storybook– where there has to be a culprit– in reality, there doesn’t. It is true that there is usually a guilty party; somebody to blame. But, in reality, there are plenty of tangents that could perpetrate a ‘death.’ With a technological innovation, there’s a plethora of factors that could contribute to some sort of death within the process, but that does not create an assassinating, butchering, murder.
In the case of Aramis, Latour argues that “there was no murder,” even though it was a failed project. On page 292, Latour writes, “You had a hypersensitive project, and you treated it as if you could get it through under its own stream. But you weren’t nuclear power, you weren’t the army; you weren’t able to make the ministries, the Budget Office, or the passengers behave in such a way as to adapt themselves to Aramis’ subtle variations, to its hesitations and its moods. And you left Aramis to cope under its own steam when it was actually weak and fragile. You believed in the autonomy of technology.” He explains the fact that Aramis is a product of reality. The certainties of reality is that when things are too difficult for a person, and that person begins “quaking all over,” he/she will become overwhelmed. Aramis, as an actor, became completely overwhelmed with all of the intricacies within its operation. So, since its innovators couldn’t control every minuscule element, they didn’t intentionally and vigorously put an end to it. Aramis died out on its own.
If somebody claims that his/her ‘soul is dead,’ in a novel, then the truth of it is that he/she will rise up to the occasion, and come to a growing realization– ultimately being able to crawl out of the cave. The truth happens in novels. However, in reality it eats away at the person, and becomes a death, not a murder.
Latour’s statements connect directly to Victor Frankenstein’s creation in Frankenstein. The monster was created; he had flesh, blood, bones, a brain, and the whole package. However he, as an actor, came to a death as well. Without the correct guidance and supervision, his thoughts were maliciously directed. Ultimately, the monster was still there, but his emotions had died.

A helpful chain of ideas

The concept of translation as Latour sees it should not be considered a very new one at all.  By a translation he is referring to a chain of events that leads up to a singular conclusion.  His first example of a translation was on page 33 when he said “there is no solution to the problems of the city without kinematics, no kinematics without Automatisme et Technique; and, of course, no Automatisme et Technique without Bardet.”  The translations that are dealt with in this book are generally idea or thought oriented as opposed to actual processes.  There are several instances where people feed ideas to one another to help with a translational chain such as when Bardet comes up with the idea for Aramis, Bardet then “sold” the idea to Matra who then marketed the idea much more effectively and to a wider audience than Bardet ever could.  Through translations such as this projects like Aramis become more viable.  On the other hand, Latour is also quoted on page 48 that “to translate is to betray: ambiguity is part of translation”.  The reason Latour may have such harsh words in this case is because Aramis wasn’t turning out to be all he thought it could be.  Directly after that quote he discusses how it was only being used for airports at that point in time and so he probably sees this chain of translation as having a negative impact on the Aramis project.  However, this step did see Aramis come into existence as opposed to just an idea on paper.  This is an important result because it teaches not just Latour, but also the reader that even if an idea was originally conceptualized to do one thing it can easily end up being used for something else when put into practical use.

These ideas can be compared to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in several ways.  The monsters creation can be seen as a translation as well as his experiences that led him to his evil ways.  Frankenstein had an idea and through a chain of events, brought that idea to fruition in the form of the creature.  The creature’s translation from good to evil can be seen as a string of events that happened to him starting off good and then, like the creature himself, ended up being negative or “evil” experiences.  This can be helpful in figuring out why the monster ended up acting the way he did throughout the story when you follow the translation that occurred concerning him.  In addition to the idea of translations it can be seen in Frankenstein that not everything turns out how people expect it to.  The prime example would be the creation of the monster.  While Frankenstein was creating the monster he never expected his creation to turn out the way it did and if he did expect it to be a murderous beast he would have never made it in the first place.  Finally, it’s important to note that with the Aramis project and many others like it, the projects themselves benefited from multiple people being involved in the train of translation.  It’s quite probable that the monster would have not turned out the way it did if Frankenstein had other people involved in the translational chain to create the monster.

 

Discussion Question:  How do you think Latour’s anger towards the initial developments in the Aramis project are justified?  Or is he merely using hindsight as an unfair advantage to see what Aramis could have been if it was seen all the way to completion?

Translation Causes a Loss of Passion

Translation is the process of taking information from one source integrating it and spitting it back out in such a way that another group or source can understand it.  The act of translation between two spoken langue’s is messy it causes all kinds of grammatical errors.  How do you account for gender and non-gender pronouns, clichés that won’t translate well literally? Translation loses something the more times it gets passed around.

Translation from engineers to non -engineers can be like that. In the story the mentor mentions Aramis needing an engine local support that will drive it from paper to reality. The local supporters get their cutes from the PR team of the project who get their cutes from the engineers.  “…Aramis is unreal: they all need allies, friends long chains of translators.(pg 86)”. These translators take the energy and passion for the project from the next group closest to Aramis from them.  Aramis didn’t have an engine because the engineers themselves didn’t have that much passion for it. As an idea is passed down the chain it loses a bit of passion, just like heat exchange isn’t 100 percent efficient

This loss of passion, or data, as ideas are passed from one person to another means that even the most passionate of ideas will lose their spark as they are handled unless each person or a large percentage of them can feel the same original passion for the idea, sparked from the words of others but feed from their own minds.

In Frankenstein, Victor has such incredible passion for the idea of his monster. He spends endless hours working on his project.  If Victor had been capable of spreading that passion, if the idea of a new race created by humans had be able to propagate would the monster have been brought into the world with a clear plan laid out by academics? Would he have had companions? If these factors had been different would the monster have become run away piece of technology?

Translation of Problems

As I understand him, Bruno Latour is using the word “translation” to connect the seemingly unsolvable engineering problems to unfamiliar societal problems. When I hear the term translation, my first thought is that it means to convert some form of communication (whether oral or written) from one language to another. This is somewhat similar to my understanding of Latour’s definition of the word. Just as all languages have the same objective of conveying information, all problems (in this case technical and societal) have some sort of common link. You cannot simply solve a problem from a technical aspect nor can you solve it from the societal side. A problem must be approached from all angles in order to be solvable.

Problem solving is not as simple as a basic language translation, however. You cannot simply “translate” the technical side of a problem into a societal problem and look at the entire issue without the technicalities. That would not be fair to the technical side of the problem. “To translate is to betray: ambiguity is part of translation.” (48). To simply translate one angle of looking at an issue into another one would be a betrayal to the problem itself. In order to perfect the art of problem solving, one must be fair to all methods of analyzing and solving it. Combining these methods produces loads of ambiguity because they are all  different in nature and thus will all approach different solutions. Considering each individual or group is different, all complex problems requiring translation to solve will theoretically have infinite solutions, just as any linguistic translation can theoretically have many interpretations.

I feel that Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s novel was unable to use “translation” to solve his problems, and this ultimately led to his downfall. As a scientist, Victor wanted to solve everything scientifically. When creating his monster, he did not once take into account the effects that such a creature may have on society or even on himself. His one-sided approach caused him to create a technology that neither he nor society could accept. Luckily for Victor, he learned from his mistake, at least to some degree. While in the process of creating a companion for his monster, he had the realization that not everything may go as planned and his new monster could be a larger disaster than his first rather than a solution. This caused Victor to abandon the creation of a second monster and to decide that the best solution to his problem was to take it out rather than please it.