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Our real world and the worlds of technologies

by Jaqueline McLeod and Fiona Joy Green

Canadians have an iconic figure of accomplished prose writing and scientific investigation in URSULA FRANKLIN, and it was wonderful to see her work foregrounded and polished in a recent collection, What Would Ursula Franklin Say? [Reprising The Real World of Technology]. Franklin was properly suspicious of technology as potentially unbalancing and dangerous (what she called “prescriptive” technologies) but at the same time recognized its abundant potential to support life ( what she called “holistic” types). 

Technologies are not neutral, but have social and political life and impact. Prescriptive technologies seem to make life easier and offer security, but repressive forms of control are baked into algorithms and operating systems, privileging elite capitalist interests and controlling all others. On the other hand, if guided by humanistic principles these systems can be more benevolent, built to promote equity and agency. 

In Franklin’s work, there are many implications for home life and the role of technologies within it. We can be more thoughtful and creative in how we use energy for one (see Brian Sutherland, “Ursula Franklin and the Energy Transition“). If we all work on building our understanding of how overuse of technologies has degraded planet and environment, then it will be possible to exercise more active agency and knowing  when and how to pronounce a principled “no”  (Jim Gerrie). 

The real meaning of Franklin’s work for our collection, Parenting/Internet/Kids:Domesticating Technologies, is that the reflective and critical perspective she recommends continues to be one we each benefit from assuming. Over the pandemic, we have migrated without caution to using technology as educational tool and platform. We now need to reflect on ways to loosen our dependency. Using technology, we were able to make some gains and can continue to seed positive applications. Yes, perhaps more important, we need to find out how to reactivate contact and togetherness in the real world of planet and people. 

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