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How does technology mediate our practices?

Peter-Paul Verbeek zooms in on the second arrow of mediation; “practices”, using Latour
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A second line in understanding mediation concerns the mediation of practices. How do technologies influence how people behave? How we do things, how we interact with the world around us. And also here, there are two aspects of this mediation of practice. On the one hand, there is a micro dimension. How do we act? How do we behave? How do we do things as individuals? And on the second hand, there is a macro dimension. This is about social practices. How do we engage with the world around us? How do we organize social practices, ways of doing things in our society? A good example here might be driving in a car.
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We have used the example several times already, but it comes together here. You could say, of course, a car at the micro level invites four different actions, than biking or walking. We do things differently on the road when we are in the car than when we are sitting on a bike or when we walk there by foot. But a car also gives different interactions with the other people on the road. It makes you communicate differently with people. It makes a lot of difference if you’re in a car or on your bicycle. But also at a higher level of aggregation, cars have a lot of implications, as we saw.
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We already saw that cars have made it possible to live further away from work than we used to. And therefore, it has contributed to the separation of, the social sphere of our work and the social sphere in our free time. And cars have done a lot to the ways in which simply we live our lives, the things that we can do, the people that we can see, the way in which we just organize our everyday lives.
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A key concept to understand this mediation of practice is the concept of a script. Madeline Akrich and Bruno Latour have developed this concept to analyze the influence of things, of technologies on human actions, on human agency, on human behavior if you want. Things in our society, typically contain a script that tell us what to do. Just like the script of a theater play or a movie tells the actors what to say, what to do, where to stand, et cetera. A speed bump says slow down before you approach me. The coin lock in a supermarket cart says, please return me to the place where you got me. Things organize our actions by prescribing what to do.
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It also shows how thin the lines between humans and things are. Because this also means that we can delegate tasks to things rather than to humans. You can ask people to collect supermarket carts every day to put them back at a place where people pick them up. But you can also delegate the task to a coin lock that will basically do the same thing. You can put a police officer at the corner of every road to make sure that people don’t drive too fast. But you can also delegate that task to a speed bump.
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This analysis at the micro level, how things influence action, also has a macro dimension. Our social practices and our engagement with the world around us. I already gave the example of robots in teaching and in health care. Robots might seem to replace the teacher, but in fact, what they do is to mediate how teachers teach, how they engage with children, how they engage with the material they’re teaching. Robots can, for instance, ask children to teach them things or they are somehow, a program to teach children things while the teacher gets a role in supervising how the robot is teaching the children.
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In all of these situations, the use of robots results in new forms of engagement, new practices of education, engagement between teachers and children, between children and each other, children and the robot, teachers and the robot. And this also results in new roles, maybe even in new role models of the teachers. So to sum it up, technologies mediate practices at the micro level and at the macro level. They help to shape actions, how people behave and help to shape how people engage with the world around him and how we organize social practices.

In this video we zoom-in on the dimension of practices. Like with the dimension of perception, we we can differentiate between two different kinds: micro-practices and macro-practices. The example the car clarified how mediations steer actions (e.g. we do different things in a car compared with a bike) and steer engagement with the world (e.g. we can live further away from work).

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Philosophy of Technology and Design: Shaping the Relations Between Humans and Technologies

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