Skip to main content

Technophilia/Technoskepticism (2020–21)

Technophilia/technoskepticism logo

Published April 29, 2020

Organized by Jon Caris, Environmental Science and Policy, and Dana Leibsohn, Art


Project Description

When technologies change the world, what happens? From moveable type to drones, prison architecture to bioinformatics, innovation has long tested our ethics, if not also our ways of being human. What, then, are the implications of innovation?

Thinking expansively about technology and its work in the world, this yearlong Kahn project invites discussions about creativity and data, machines and knowledge production. Among the questions we seek to address: how have people, individually and collectively, grappled with the virtues and transgressions of new technologies? How do current habits of thinking with—and depending upon—technology differ from those of the past, or those we imagine for the future? How do our positions on technology shape relationships to that which is not human and our senses of self?

When this seminar begins in 2020, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G increasingly promises to shift daily lives—in conjunction with, and through resistance to—a myriad of older technologies. Today’s pace of change may be distinctive, but innovation and inequality have sparked each other for centuries. Moreover, we know technologies can produce inequality, but what about the other way around: what are the effects of inequality on technological innovation? Alongside this question, we will explore and challenge underlying presumptions that fuel public discourse on technological “progress.” Because social technologies lead into unexpected terrain, and, consequently, force policy reform, we expect to discuss security and surveillance, but also social media’s effect on friendship and changing concepts of intellectual property. With an eye on different geographies and historical settings, we will consider analog technologies and nostalgia as well as specific technologies (e.g., CRISPR, AI, smart phones but also fax machines, eyeglasses, and cotton gins). Our inquiry will lead us to philosophy and ethics. It will also involve hands-on work and critique—perhaps with drones or video games, farm equipment and sensors that bear witness to climate change.

In taking up the contested spaces produced by innovation, this project invites people eager to think about how distinct communities consume/ produce different technologies and the issues these practices raise. We are interested in both affect and effect, especially for those anchored in higher education. The project welcomes colleagues interested in any aspect of the history of innovation, whether their primary questions are bound to algorithms, anabiosis, or the arts.

Project Fellows

  • Dana Leibsohn, Organizing Fellow, Art
    Researching technologies for producing, collecting and withholding knowledge in the early modern Pacific world.
  • Jon Caris, Organizing Fellow, Environmental Science and Policy
    Interrupting Space and Time—the affordances, drawbacks and responsibilities of drone technology.
  • Diane Alvarez Benitez '22, Engineering
    Working to develop a prototype of a sustainable, multifunctional piece of furniture, in part to inform the creation of a technophilic design on furniture. 
  • Alexis Callendar, Art
    Examining relationships of technology to labor, borders, personal narratives and citizenship.
  • Lily Foster, Smith College Museum of Art
    Exploring the role of public language (statements of purpose, mission statements, statements of commitment) in shaping art museums as a form of cultural technology.
  • Emma Fuchs '21, Comparative Literature
    Investigating relationships between technophilia and technoskepticism within realms of the digital humanities – exploring intersections among publishing, film, the internet and museums.
  • Evangeline Heiliger, American Studies
    Exploring building, engineering, and biomedical technologies through a Feminist STS lens as they relate to: 1) building tiny houses; 2) rebuilding breasts/chests after cancer diagnoses; and 3) “building” babies using in/fertility technologies. 
  • Colin Hoag, Anthropology
    Researching plant biogeography (Asteraceae) in a human-disturbed world, specifically in regard to debates about the utility of “big data” computational approaches versus natural history methods.
  • Michelle Joffroy, Spanish and Portuguese
    Considering domestic workers as old/new subjects of technologies of visual and material capture, containment, and surveillance.
  • Matthew Schilleman, English, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
    Developing the concept of a "digital unconscious" that merges the critical insights of deconstruction, psychoanalysis, and marxism with recent developments in neural networks, machine reading/translation, and the algorithmic as such.
  • Espy Thomson' 21, Environmental Science and Policy
    Exploring the creation of donor sibling families that result from, and are impacted by, the unregulated reproductive technology industry in the United States.
  • Tracy Tien, Spatial Analysis Lab
    Considering technology’s role in the creative, iterative process. Does mapping software obfuscate the inherent value of creation? Or does it spur unintentional inspirations simply owed to the expediency of algorithms?
  • Matthew Watson, Sociology and Anthropology, Mount Holyoke College
    Examining how mid-20th century collaborations among U.S. anthropologists, Mexican state officials, and corporate technologists shaped public understanding of indigenous Mexican cultures, and established distinctive connections between art, science, and social science that persist today.