My Philosophy of Technology
Intersecting Culture, Diverse Youth and Innovation
When people think of technology, they typically imagine things that use batteries or need to be plugged in like cell phones or computers. However, technology can represent so much more than an object which requires a power source. Technology is a necessary part of the advancement of society and is directly linked to the evolution of humanity. Creating technology has allowed individuals and communities to gain and maintain resources that offer advantages in controlling the natural world. Although the opportunities sustained through developing technology has benefitted many people, there are still gaps in who gets to build technology. My thesis for this paper is that intersecting culture, minoritized youth, and innovation can broaden participation in technological innovation and empower underrepresented communities to have an increased stake in advancing society. Minoritized groups are “different in race, religious creed, nation of origin, sexuality, and gender and as a result of social constructs have less power or representation compared to other members or groups in society” (Smith, 2017). Before I explore my philosophy of technology, I will introduce other interpretations of both philosophy and technology.
The philosophy of technology has many identities that characterize its complex nature. De Vries (2016) unpacks philosophy into analytical and critical functions in which the author ask questions for practicality and then make value judgements, respectively. In the various fields of philosophy, the author distinguishes these fields into (1) ontology, (2) epistemology, (3) methodology, (4) metaphysics, and (5) ethics and aesthetics. Each of these fields are recognizable within the philosophy of technology. Another way the author divides philosophy are in analytical philosophy, where people may define concepts, and cultural philosophy, where people may develop ideas regarding sociocultural implications of technology. The author refers to Mitcham’s (1994) Thinking Through Technology to conceptualize technology through four approaches: ontologically, epistemologically, methodologically, and volitionally (i.e., teleologically, ethically, & aesthetically). I agree with De Vries’ suggestion that objects or artifacts must be made through designing, making, and using and that technology is a distinct discipline of knowledge. The philosophy of technology implicates many aspects of how we see and know what exists, and how that influences our judgements and actions. In the next section, I offer different perspectives on technology, then my overall view of technology.
Definition of Technology
Many scholars have sought to define technology but a definitive meaning has yet to be determined. The ITEA/ITEEA’s (2000/2002/2007) definition of technology comes closest to my own. The ITEA defines technology as “the modification of the natural environment in order to satisfy perceived human needs and wants” (p. 7). In Society and Technological Change, Volti (2009) defines technology as “a system created by humans that uses knowledge and organization to produce objects and techniques for the attainment of specific goals” (p. 6). Arthur (2009) offers three different definitions: (1) “a means to fulfill a human purpose”, (2) “an assemblage of practices and components”, and (3) “a collection of devices and engineering practices available to a culture” (p. 28). Each of these definitions share some semblance of my personal definition.
From my background in mechanical engineering, I pose that technology manifests as the product of engineering. My simplest definition for engineering is the process by which technology is created. From my experiences, I see both technology and the work of engineering in everything unnatural around me. This broad sense of what technology ‘is’ still remains unclear when I view all manmade objects and applied knowledge as technology. For this reason, I define technology as the applied knowledge for the purpose of changing the natural world to fulfill desires and needs with associated consequences.
My suggestion that there is an application of knowledge comes from the understanding that all technology is humanmade for some purpose. Since technology is a modification of nature, it would be impossible to find this technology naturally reoccurring in the world without some form of interaction/interruption from a human being. Technology must have some outcome associated for it to be developed. These outcomes in the most basic form are some expression or attempt to fulfill a desire or need. Lastly, all technology has some level of intended and unintended consequences since they are not natural. With the straightforward definition of engineering, the advancement of technology depends considerably on the expertise of engineers and technologists. The goal of professional engineers is to optimize technological solutions to fulfill human needs and wants. As engineers develop technology, we must consider the many implications on our society.
Purpose of Technology for Societal Advancement
Technology has helped move society forward in appreciable ways. For example, the advancement of medical technology has improved the quality of life in society. An exemplar of this occurred when the World Health Organization’s declared the complete eradication of smallpox in 1980 solely through vaccination when the first immunization was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796 (Bradford, 2019). Even though there have been advances in various areas of daily life, there are still critics of the ‘illusion of progress’ that technology incites (Braun, 2014; Sarewitz, 2010) . Marx (2009) questions “Does improved technology mean progress? Yes, it certainly could mean just that. But only if we are willing and able to answer the next question: “Progress toward what?”. Although technology has benefitted society in many ways, there have been drawbacks regarding sustainability due to the existence of technologies.
Mesthene (2009) provides clarity in how technology affects society with the following sequence: (1) creation of opportunity, (2) alteration of social organization, (3) interference with existing social structures, and (4) inadequacy of older structures. Furthermore, the author contextualizes the external costs and benefits to society associated with developing a new technology which he deems as not fully explored by entrepreneurs. From my background in sustainability when developing technologies, I understand how the emergence of sustainable development goals has been brought about by the negligence of industries to fully analyze the life cycles of products. Capitalism and freedom to create opportunities seem to sacrifice social and environmental responsibility in many cases. Mesthene mentions that values change as technology provides more choices and I believe that these possible choices make technology an enticing means of creating solutions to problems that technology has created. This may lead to a neverending cycle of complex challenges as existing structures are continuously interrupted and deemed inadequate as new opportunities arise.
Mitcham and Holbrook (2006) highlight how pervasive design is in everything we do as they discuss the notion that society designs to affect future outcomes. Even though engineers design solutions, they have no true notion of whether we're truly moving forward in a positive fashion. The authors mention how designing technology for scale (i.e., mass production and mass marketing) influenced the very nature of designing. Moving toward this ‘calculative ingenuity’ has led many scholars and professionals to realize the real-world grand challenges associated with the prior and present technologies that have been created. To be frank, the solution for the grand challenges of engineering is to engineering design a solution. But what progress will this lead to? We cannot officially predict every outcome, however, there is an ever-present need to develop sustainable solutions due to the instability created by prior and present designs that impact the environment and humanity. Increasing scientific literacy amongst underrepresented populations may hold the solution toward creating sustainable solutions.
Michael (2006) explored what scientific literacy means and how it applies to the public. The author posits that technology and people are coagents which informs the dynamic in which the public must participate in the development of technologies to help shape society since we cohabitate with technology. Tenner (2009) makes fascinating parallels between the simple technology, shoelaces, and its implications on human interactions. Depending on the various personal identities that exist, there are subtle variations in how shoelaces are used or the techniques that are applied when using shoelaces. Something as simple as shoelaces have lasted in relatively the same form with few innovations other than in technique. Technology shares inherent connections to the human counterpart which connotes that more stakeholders must be represented when creating technology that affects society due to political consequences. A stronger scientific curriculum for the general public to engage in would likely improve the cocreation between technology and society.
Winner (2009) explains how technological artificacts can facilitate political agendas with harmful implications on marginalized groups. I posit that the spaces in which technology is developed such as makerspaces sustain similar political agendas that disenfranchise groups whose cultures are not represented in technological advances. Underrepresented students compose a small percentage of STEM degrees yet success in STEM offers viable opportunities for economic advancement to underrepresented minoritized youth. As the world becomes increasingly technological, the U.S. has begun to seek new approaches for broadening participation in STEM beyond the white, male labor supply (Gonzalez & Kuenzi, 2012; National Science Foundation, 2014).
Increasing the number of diverse professionals in the STEM workforce begins with exposing, preparing, and educating all students at an early age. Minoritized students experience disenchantment with STEM at a young age for several reasons. Factors ascribed to underrepresentation include intimidating climate in science classes, poor quality of instruction, little (or no) career counseling, and perceived lack of relevance to daily life (Seymour & Hewitt, 1994; Simpson, 2003). Students from low socioeconomic status (SES) background, a high percentage of whom are minorities, have limited resources and access to high-technological equipment (DeCastro-Ambrosetti & Cho, 2002). Due to these and other factors, the nation has shown a steady decline in STEM affinity and STEM career trajectories among high school graduates and college students (Council of State Governments, 2010). The National Science Foundation Committee on Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering determined in 2007 that K-12 programs were key to increasing the number of students seeking STEM careers.With a professional field being overrepresented by a dominant group, it has become apparent how a lack of representation affects technological advancement in society. For example, the male test dummies were used in simulated car crashes by the auto industry for decades which led to a lack of consideration for women resulting in severe spinal and neck injuries (Vinsel, 2013). Instilling a culture of inclusivity will lead to more universal design due to careful consideration of all stakeholders. Waks (2006) points out that technology educators cannot make a preselected curriculum based on standard topics when teaching a noncaptive audience. Instead, they must listen to the feedback of the students and engage them with lessons relevant to their most pressing problems and interests. I pose that culturally relevant and responsive curriculum would help facilitate underrepresented minoritized youth’s journeys toward following a STEM pathway (Gay, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1992, 2014).
Definition of Culture
De Vries (2006) upheld that volition was involved in the process of making technology in such a way that technology is an “intrinsic part of our culture” and “that technology for that reason has everything to do with values that humans hold” (p. 19). Birukou, Blanzieri, Giorgini, and Giunchiglia (2013) define culture as a physical or virtual representation of a collective entity that has characteristics of human societies that are communicated by non-genetic means and can be owned by an individual in the forms of behavior, beliefs, and knowledge. The manifestations of technological innovations are exhibited differently depending on cultural contexts.
Underrepresented minoritized youth bring cultural value to technological innovations. The Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) framework challenges deficit thinking of communities of color by seeking to understand the empowering potential of cultural capital. Cultural capital refers to the accrual of cultural knowledge, skills, and abilities acquired and inherited by one’s family or though one’s formal schooling (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). According to Yosso (2005), there are six forms of cultural capital: (1) aspirational capital, (2) linguistic capital, (3) familial capital, (4) social capital, (5) navigational capital, and (6) resistant capital. Kim, Park, and Park (2019) found that cultural capital is directly linked to innovative behavior. These forms of cultural capital may be leveraged by underrepresented minoritized youth in accordance with technological innovation to solve open-ended, context-bound problems when made accessible.
Cultural Value Minoritized Youth Leverage to Cultivate Technology
Offering opportunities for minoritized youth to develop a technology by blending their cultural identities would be beneficial in instances where they could not do so without access to resources. Barton, Tan, and Greenberg (2019) seek to understand how underrepresented youth engage in designing in a makerspace program “Making 4 Change”. The authors question (1) how makerspaces support sustained engagement in engineering design among minoritized youth, (2) the importance of different forms of engagement in affecting how youth frame problems worth solving, and (3) the equity-oriented implications of designing makerspaces for minoritized youth. This article addresses the inequalities in achievement in STEM amongst minoritized groups as problems related to economic advancement, democratic participation, and limited access to resources. Makerspaces are supported as a viable resource for developing knowledge even though the spaces tend to be occupied by a majority of white, adult men (TASCHA, 2012). Barton et al. (2019) pose a possibility for growth in STEM identity among underrepresented youth due to the unique exposure that makerspaces offer. The study reinforces my belief that when youth are given a nonjudgmental space to leverage resources, they discover new ways to develop technology to make a positive change.
My philosophy of technology is influenced by this article because I believe that providing marginalized groups with equitable opportunities can challenge the status quo of larger or wealthier groups having more influence in decision-making, especially concerning technological advances that often negatively affect the minoritized. Underrepresented groups can cultivate new technology that reflect unfulfilled cultural needs and desires. Further exploration is necessary to determine how makerspaces may engage students through the design process while emphasizing freedom of choice and collaboration. Nonetheless, inclusion of minoritized youth that leverage their cultural capital while accessing entrepreneurship and engineering education can lead to new investors in technological innovation.
Figure 1. Graphic indicating the ideal pathway that youth may leverage engineering to become technological innovators
Entrepreneurship and engineering education are valuable subject areas that minoritized youth may leverage to overcome systemic barriers of discrimination and poverty. Students need to be adequately equipped with both technical and business skills so that they can design human-centered solutions, effectively collaborate with and lead interdisciplinary teams, and critically assess open-ended problems. Several scholars have recognized that entrepreneurship can be incorporated into math and science curriculum to ensure students’ investment in learning concepts and foster resilience and innovation (Tanenbaum, 2016). The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) developed the Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century in 2004. This report identified ten attributes that engineers should possess to address future engineering challenges, two of which were principles of business and management and principles of leadership. These aspects of a successful engineer are specifically viewed as entrepreneurial attributes (Sheppard, Macatangay, Colby, Sullivan, & Shulman, 2009). This means that entrepreneurial competencies must be cultivated in aspiring engineers to undertake the challenges of tomorrow (NAE & NRC, 2009). Therefore, if STEM educators mold entrepreneurially-minded students at an earlier age, we can cultivate the next generation of engineering leaders who can address grand challenges for engineering (NAE, 2004).
Although outreach initiatives recruit minoritized youth to diversify the engineering (and more broadly STEM) workforce, few curricula include entrepreneurship to prepare students in becoming professional engineers. Many minoritized individuals become engineers as a means of making a sustainable income, but entrepreneurship offers the ability to create jobs for the historically marginalized who still face discrimination in today’s market such as seeking a small business loan (Hoffer, 1987). Entrepreneurial training can help minoritized students raised in a risk-averse culture in under-resourced communities to thrive as self-reliant and financially literate individuals. However, before we can understand how to develop this type of experiences, we need to better understand how youth leverage and teachers facilitate learning entrepreneurship and engineering. This would allow youth to design and monetize sustainable engineering solutions that grant opportunities for upward mobility and societal change in a social, cultural, and financial context.
Research on the effects of nontraditional applications of engineering education will expand the collective knowledge regarding the process in which minoritized individuals master principles of business and management, and leadership (NAE, 2004). Through this mastery, minoritized youth will have the skills and knowledge to create job opportunities and diversify the STEM workforce. With the abilities granted from entrepreneurial engineering, youth are given the accessibility of more career prospects such as, but not limited to, funding their college education, hiring underrepresented populations, and developing intellectual property for sustainable solutions. In sum, I believe that inclusivity and equity in technology will empower minoritized youth to become technological innovators & entrepreneurial engineers that advance society.
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 Aspirational capital refers to the ability to maintain hopes for the future despite perceived barriers. Linguistic capital includes speaking more than one language or style. Familial capital refers to community centeredness among kin regarding history and cultural intuition. Social capital can be understood as community support through resource sharing. Navigational capital refers to skills of maneuvering through hostile spaces. Lastly, resistant capital refers to the ability to challenge injustice or inequalities.