2.1 Are some jobs too important, or too dangerous, for machines to take over?2.2 What ethical implications do you see in this statement from the Bekey reading: “It is evident that shared, cooperative work between humans and robots may enhance the working environment, but it may also reduce human-human interaction and communication.”2.3 How do you respond to this statement from the Schwab reading: “When one’s life becomes fully transparent and when indiscretions big or small become knowable to all, who will have the courage to assume top leadership responsibilities?”Reading:George A. Bekey. “Current Trends in Robotics: Technology and Ethics.” Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics. Eds. Patrick Lin, Keith Abney, George A. Bekey. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 2012. Pages 17-34.Lin, Patrick. “Introduction to Robot Ethics.” Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics. Eds. Patrick Lin, Keith Abney, George A. Bekey. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 2012. Pages 1-16.Longo, Bernadette. “Human+Machine Culture: Where We Work.” Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice. Ed. Rachel Spilka. NY: Routledge. 2009. Pages 147-168.Schwab, Klaus. “Chapter 3.4: Society” and “3.5 The Individual” The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Pages 91-105.Schwab Klaus reading is here https://drive.google.com/open?id=1KYXSPbmLhZBTqYQI…



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Human+Machine Culture: Where We Work
Bernadette Longo
University of Minnesota
When I work at my computer, I may feel that my primary relationship is between
myself and my machine. But whether I am writing an article, visiting an immersive
world, or writing on a friend‘s wall in Facebook, I have a sense that other people lurk
behind my screen. And I want a relationship with those other people, even if it is
mediated by the machine that is a physical manifestation of the virtual relationship.
Because I sense that there are human relationships beyond my machine and because I
can communicate with other people in a virtual environment, together we will form
some kind of community and culture based on those relationships and
communication. Together, we will create a common computer-mediated context for
forming, valuing, sustaining, and ending relationships, and that will become a culture.
Community formation relies on acts of inclusion and exclusion. As technical
communicators and information designers, we rely on our understanding of audience,
community, and culture to guide our decisions about what to include in, and what to
exclude from the documents and other media we develop. Our implicit assumptions
about communities and cultures within which we work shape our notions of what is
(in)appropriate and what is (in)effective in our communications.
Just as we rely on our assumptions about culture to guide our decisions, at the same
time, culture is shaped by decisions we make about inclusion and exclusion. This
culture then becomes an implied, tacit context within which people make decisions,
form opinions, adopt values, generate desires, initiate, maintain, or end relationships,
and so on, whether in the physical world or in a computer-mediated environment.
In the computer-mediated environment, however, the presence of the mediating
machine adds a technological sensibility to the culture that is created. Because this
digital culture is comprised of human+machine, it is important for us to investigate
and characterize this new culture rather than assuming that it is simply equal to the
human+human culture that has become a nearly invisible medium for our activities,
something like the air we breathe. Technical communicators especially need to
understand the human+machine culture, since we operate within it and it profoundly
influences the communications we craft and their effects on groups of people. These
effects could be buying habits, social networking patterns, expectations for social
inclusion/exclusion, or other explicit or implicit outcomes from human+machine
In this chapter, I will begin by exploring the term ―culture,‖ which is a complicated
term even though we often assume we know what it means. This is an important
definition to start this chapter, since I am arguing for a new understanding of our
culture when we become profoundly coupled to machines that facilitate our
communication and networking with other people. I then explore another term that
we often take for granted: ―community.‖ Like the term ―culture,‖ we often assume we
know what we mean when we call a group of people a community. We often argue
that we can form an all-inclusive community through the use of computer
technologies, yet I argue in this chapter that this goal is not achievable or even
desirable. The idea of community has also been incorporated into the model of
activity theory that seeks to confine the idea of community to a component that can
be isolated in an organizational research setting. Yet I argue here that the idea of
community must be studied within its cultural context in order to come to an
understanding of why people make the decisions they do in a given circumstance. The
idea of community has been especially attractive to people who advocate building
communities through virtual, online groups or social networks. Yet these virtual
communities encourage simulated social interactions that lead to simulated human
connections. The question that I am left with at the end of this chapter is this: Can
virtual social connections established within a human+machine culture satisfy our
human need to connect with other people? As technical communicators, each of us
has the power to craft an answer to this question.
Culture is a slippery concept, so I will explain how I am using it in this chapter.
Williams (1976) claimed that the word ―culture‖ is ―one of the two or three most
complicated words in the English language‖ (p. 87). Sometimes people think of
culture as tied to citizenship in a nation, thus they speak of the ―Japanese culture‖ or
the ―French culture.‖ Usually, people using these phrases refer to culture as
something that is inherent in groups of people who are somehow unlike themselves.
Even within the United States, we might conceive of a ―Southern culture‖ or a ―New
England culture‖ as having distinct characteristics that manifest themselves in such
aspects as how readily people speak to strangers or what types of foods are traditional
to these areas of the country. But this concept of culture as related to a physical place
is not one that pertains to this discussion of human+machine culture.
The concept of culture that informs critical cultural studies and this chapter reflects
centuries of evolving meanings for this term. Williams traced this term‘s evolution
back to its earliest meaning as ―tending of natural growth‖ (1983, p. xiv). Over time,
by analogy, this term extended to include tending a person‘s growth and
development. This sense of the word then took on a noun form and ―culture‖ became
the effect of personal growth on a social scale – ―a thing in itself‖ (1983, p. xiv)
related to ―civilization‖ (1976, p. 89). Williams found that in the 19th century, this
latter understanding went through the following development:
It came to mean first, ―a general state or habit of the mind‖…Second, it came
to mean ―the general state of intellectual development, in a society as a
whole.‖ Third, it came to mean ‗the general body of the arts.‘ Fourth,…it
came to mean ―a whole way of life, material, intellectual, and spiritual‖ (1983,
p. xvi).
Williams further argued that the complex relationships between the different senses
of this term:
…indicates a complex argument about the relations between general human
development and a particular way of life…and between both and the words
and practices of art and intelligence….[I]n archaeology and in cultural
anthropology the reference to culture…is primarily to material production,
while in history and cultural studies the reference is primarily to signifying or
symbolic systems. (1976, p. 91)
In this understanding of the term, ―culture‖ refers to the ways in which people relate
to each other within a particular social context—how their values, beliefs,
assumptions, worldview, and so on are manifested through everyday actions and
decisions. These relations take place within the largely invisible context of culture,
yet the traces of this culture can be seen in the language and other symbolic systems
that we employ. Thus, technical communicators can learn about cultural contexts by
studying language and the social relationships embedded in how people use it.
The concept of culture that I am using views it as the social milieu or context in
which individuals and groups of people carry on their daily lives. Culture is like the
air: it is all around us and we rely on it; we breathe it in and out, but we don‘t usually
notice it. We take for granted that our cultural values and beliefs are ―normal‖ and we
notice what is different about other cultures. We attribute this understanding of
normalcy to the ―nature‖ of things, or to what is ―natural.‖ And our common sense
tells us that some things are ―natural‖ or ―normal.‖ If something belies our common
sense, it is ―foreign,‖ ―unnatural,‖ ―abnormal,‖ or even ―dangerous.‖ We struggle to
make meaning of whatever does not agree with our common sense beliefs about how
the world is and how people act in the world.
In a virtual world, sometimes it may seem that everyone is ―normal‖– from rabbit
avatars to dorm roomies streaming their lives via webcam. One of the stories we tell
about digital culture is that it is all-inclusive—almost a-cultural—a realm in which
everyone seems equal in what Rheingold (1993) describes as an ―electronic
democracy‖ (Chap. 10). Computer technology, some believe, homogenizes cultures
into one universal digital culture ―embodied‖ in one all-encompassing virtual
community. Yet any information designer contemplating the intended audience for a
Web site knows that the digital culture is not universal, nor is it culturally
homogenous. Instead, digital culture is so diverse as to defy definition.
Human+machine communities tend to be fragmented and localized and not universal.
Logically, the idea of an all-inclusive, universal community does not make sense. So
it is curious how some information designers and theorists continue to perpetuate an
enduring desire to form such an a-cultural community1. Bruffee (1984) once explored
how a universal community might function. He articulated a desire to form a
community in which everyone understands expectations and conventions for
collaborative knowledge-making. Citing a social model of science based on work by
the philosophers Kuhn (1962) and Rorty (1979), Bruffee envisioned a community in
Ultimately, Bruffee illustrated why this philosophical goal is impossible.
which ―normal discourse‖ is universally understood: ―…everyone agrees on the ‗set
of conventions about what counts as a relevant contribution, what counts as a
question, what counts as having a good argument for that answer or a good criticism
of it‘‖ (p. 643). According to Bruffee, in this system, knowledge is stabilized through
―normal discourse‖ and new knowledge is generated when ―abnormal discourse‖
gains acceptance through social consensus.
In many ways, Bruffee was describing an idealized community that appeals to our
sense of harmony and well-being, an idealized community that is beyond cultural
tensions and competing desires. As he put it,
[O]ur authority…derives from the values of a larger—indeed, the largest
possible—community of knowledgeable peers, the community that
encompasses all others. The interests of this largest community contradict one
of the central interests of local communities…to maintain established
knowledge. The interest of the larger community…is to bridge gaps among
knowledge communities and open them to change. (p. 650)
Since Bruffee worked within academia, he concluded that teachers can be both
conservators of established knowledge and agents of change by ―giving students
access to the ‗conversation of mankind‘‖2 (p. 650). Similarly, we could argue that
Here and throughout this chapter, I have left quotations intact – even those in which the use of
“man” indicates men and women. In fact, there are numerous instances of this use of the
masculine pronoun in this chapter, now generally considered to be sexist language. Although I
technical communicators can be both conservators of established scientific
knowledge and change agents by giving previously excluded groups access to
technologies through the documents and other media that we write and design.
Bruffee‘s argument about the role of writing teachers in collaborative learning
reflects larger philosophic notions of social relations, knowledge, and power within
an idealized community. His desire can even be seen as altruistic: creating and safeguarding a community that invites everyone to become a member. Despite this
idealized goal, however, Bruffee‘s reasoning exemplifies a widely held contradiction
that operates when we conjure the notion of community as a basis for explaining
social relationships: that is, because the community has boundaries, some people
must be excluded in order for the community to exist.
Who has the power to make that distinction between insiders and outsiders? In
Bruffee‘s model, teachers like himself had the power to invite people into the
community and teach them its rules—or not. In the model put forward in this chapter,
technical communicators also have the power to invite people into a community
with/through technological knowledge and teach them the rules—or not. Someone
has to make the distinction between insiders and outsiders, because if the community
includes everyone, it ceases to be a community and becomes a totality.
find this use of the masculine term to include men and women to be inappropriate in current
writing, it does reflect the times and philosophies explored in these quotes as historical artifacts.
Similar to Bruffee, Rheingold (1993) promotes a spirit of inclusion; he articulates a
compelling argument that human+machine communities could ―help citizens
revitalize democracy,‖ also warning that ―they could be luring us into an attractively
packaged substitute for democratic discourse‖ (Chap. 10). Regardless of whether
these communities were democratic or consumerist, however, Rheingold believes that
―most citizens of democratic societies, given access to clearly presented information
about the state of the Net, will make wise decisions about how the Net ought to be
governed‖ (Introduction). For Rheingold, open access to online communities would
result in people making wise decisions about how to maintain their communities and
cultures, leading to smart mobs and mobile virtual communities. His vision of a
democratic human+machine community based on open access for all reflects the
same desire for inclusion that Bruffee articulated in a pre-computer sense. As
admirable as this desire might be, Rheingold‘s vision of human+machine democracy
also masks mechanisms for inclusion and exclusion at work in the virtual world.
Instead of Bruffee‘s model of teachers as gatekeepers, Rheingold‘s more
contemporary model of inclusive community relies on economic and cultural
gatekeepers. For example, people who cannot afford computer equipment and
training are not included in the smart mob or mobile virtual community. People that
community trend-setters consider to be ―uncool‖ are also likely to be excluded from
the smart mob.
However, this idea of a universal community—and the desire for an all-inclusive
community—is as illogical as it is compelling. In order to form a community, some
people have to be included and others excluded. Community members know they are
in the community (us), in contrast to who is not in the community (them). Without
such boundaries, the community ceases to exist; the concept of a universal
community, therefore, is not logical.
From a cultural perspective, any idea that is extremely compelling but illogical, like a
universal community, calls for further exploration, because an important value is at
risk beneath the ―common sense‖ of this idea. We can start such inquiry with
Williams‘ (1976) exploration of the etymology and cultural function of the word
Community can be the warmly persuasive word to describe an existing set of
relationships, or the warmly persuasive word to describe an alternative set of
relationships. What is the most important, perhaps, is that unlike all other terms of
social organization (state, nation, society, etc.) it seems never to be used
unfavourably, and never to be given any positive opposing or distinguishing term.
(p. 76)
To allow a positive opposing idea to the idea of community would be to invite
disorder within the existing social order. This potential destabilization of the
social/cultural order is a dangerous risk, so the actions we take to maintain existing
communities also work to maintain social order. Because language and symbolic
systems are important tools for carrying out cultural work, those people whose work
primarily deals with language—such as technical communicators—are important
cultural workers.
Barthes in his essay ―The Great Family of Man‖ (1972) describes how the need to
maintain a stable idea of community plays out through language and images. He
addresses the ideology expressed in a photo exhibition in Paris, ―the aim of which
was to show the universality of human actions in the daily life of all countries of the
world‖ (p. 100). Arguing that even the universals of human life—birth and death—
are given meaning through their cultural and historical contexts, Barthes finds that:
…the content and appeal of the pictures, the discourse which justifies them,
aims to suppress the determining weight of history: we are held back at the
surface of an identity, prevented precisely by sentimentality from penetrating
into this ulterior zone of human behaviour where historical alienation
introduces some ―differences‖ which we shall here quite simply call
―injustices‖ (p. 101).
Here, Barthes shows why our desire is so strong to stabilize the notion of a universal
community. Like Bruffee‘s notion of a ―conversation of mankind,‖ the photo
exhibition asserts the possibility—perhaps a cultural necessity—that humankind is
progressing toward a universal community. Yet, Barthes warns that an appeal to this
universal community masks injustices and potentially destabilizing inequalities
among people in different circumstances and maintain the status quo.
The idea of community as critical to maintaining social order is important in stories
we tell about the origins of human community—as preordained by God; as naturally
organic; and as necessary for the survival of the species.3 The fear here is that the
formative act of inclusion/exclusion simultaneously casts some people as outsiders
who pose a threat to the stable community, since those outsiders can and will form, or
become their own opposing community with different values, desires, and goals.
Positing the possibility of a universal community is less potentially destabilizing than
examining our relationships with those that we place outside our communities.
Lyotard (1992) argues that this cultural silencing of injustices points to failure in
uniting all people within a universal community. He asserts that the only way to
construct a universal community is to deny local histories and culture, thereby
―depriving peoples of their narrative legitimacy‖ to ―make them take up the Idea of
free citizenship…as the only legitimacy‖ (p. 34). As much as forming a universal
community seems like a natural and desirable thing to do, doing so masks cultural
tensions, because the only way to have a universal community is to strip people of
their local knowledge and coerce them into a totalizing ―family of man.‖ Such a
project is at odds with the digital culture ethos that celebrates individual agency and
the ability to accommodate difference (see Hunt, 1996; Peters and Swanson, 2004;
Wood and Smith, 2004; Hodkinson, 2007; Postill, 2008). Instead of finding ways to
empower people through their localized expertise and worldview, a universal
See Longo, “Tensions in the Community” for an extended exploration of these myths of
community promotes the idea that knowledge is common across localized groups.
Consider how, in the current culture in which we work as technical communicators,
we often assume that we use rational, scientific methods that serve as universal,
generalized ways to make knowledge. Yet, such a worldview can negate or impede
other ways to make knowledge, and dismisses the reality that not all communities are
powered by rational, scientific knowledge.
From a cultural perspective, the important question is this: Who gets to decide whose
culture and knowledge will prevail, and whose will be silenc …
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