Computers: The great equalizer?

Yesterday we discussed Langdon Winner’s “Mythinformation” and his critique of utopian narratives surrounding the computer “revolution” of the mid-1980s.  Consider the concerns he raises and think about the ways in which computing technology impacts your own life in the current moment, some 25 years after this article was written.  Given an example from his article and establish whether you agree or disagree with his critiques of the optimistic narratives surrounding new technology (You may find yourself doing a bit of both!).  Consider in particular his key points about information versus critical thinking, or his critique of the idea that increased democratization and political participation arises from increased computer access.

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13 responses to “Computers: The great equalizer?

  1. Twenty five years after Langdon Winner wrote “Mythinformation” his viewpoints have come to fruition. He did not believe in the utopian narratives surrounding the computer revolution. People do not use the information provided to them by computers to promote political participation. I believe the computer has desensitized people to activism. They can blog or vent about their discontent and unsettlement without causing a reaction on the internet. Their views become lost in cyberspace. “The vitality of democratic politics depends upon people’s willingness to act together in pursuit of their common ends. It requires that on occasion members of a community appear before each other in person, speak their minds, deliberate on paths of action and decide what they will do.”(594) What was thought to be a great equalizer by some will in the end be a dividing factor. Some people will pursue the face-to-face participation while others click on a screen. However, it is worth noting what is behind and controls the screen. The metaphysical internet (both real and digitalized abstract) runs parallel to the global reach of companies. In The Endless Chain it is shown how “fifty controllers of most of America’s news and views are partners in industries such as agribusiness, airlines, coal and oil, timber, banking, the loan business, insurance, video games, electronics manufacturing…[etc].” (47) American democracy is controlled by corporations. The internet is a major cesspool for media created by these corporations. So even if information=knowledge=power=democracy, the information has been skewed.

  2. People make this big deal about computers and technology and how they help politics and change what’s going on. In reality that cannot happen. What can happen is that the people that use the computers and technology can change what they are doing and how they choose to use the technology. It’s all about the effect. Langdon Winner talks about in his article “Mythinformation”, how computers have an effect on people and can change democracy based on wealth of knowledge. On page 593 he explains, “…increasing access to information increases democracy and equalizes social power.” I feel though just because you increase knowledge it doesn’t have anything to do with democracy. The more that people know the more they will feel as though they are above other people. Social power will not be equal because there will be sort of a hierarchy. Plus people rely too much on technology now a days anyways. If you don’t have the knowledge of a computer most people wont even bother to look things up. Computers are just there to help find things faster. Its basically having an easy way out. If it can’t be looked up online then most people wont bother. Politics is so much more than that. Its something that has to be studied and understood and not just looked up online.

  3. The technology that Langdon Winner spoke about in the article “Mythinformation” is very prevalent today. We see political campaign ads through the Internet on sites such as YouTube and CNN. There are several very riveting blogs about political topics and concerns. Everywhere you turn there is something political on the Internet. There are millions of people on the Internet daily, but does it truly reach the masses when trying to convey its agenda? Even today many people do not like to use a computer as their only means of finding information. There are diehards that like to look things up the old fashioned way, through a book. In many cases people do not like computers when dealing with political issues. Many people prefer to see things up close and personal when making a political decision.
    In choosing one of the key assumptions on page 593, “increasing access to information increases democracy and equalizes social power”, I would like to expound on my view. In some ways increasing knowledge does allow democracy to be filtered into all markets. It allows people who are able to use the Internet to see democracy in action. By watching CNN, you can catch a live debate between potential candidates to see what there current views are and what they plan to do once they are in office. You can check you voter registration status on line with the click of a button. You can catch many of President Obama’s speeches online or even look them up after they have been given and watch them anytime. Computers have brought democracy to the forefront of many nations but at the same time some third world countries are unable to see this because they do not have the means. So how would increasing knowledge for them help with democracy? That is a very good question. How many political candidates would travel to third world countries to get there message of democracy across? Would the people there even care since many of them may not even be educated enough to understand what is being told to them or they may speak a different language than what is being spoken to them? Only time will tell.

  4. Computers alone cannot solve all the faults involved in our current democratic government. The best example of this is when Langdon Winner makes his claim that if the solution of illiteracy and poor education were a question of information supply alone, then the best policy might be to increase the number of well-stocked libraries, making sure they were built in places where libraries do not presently exist. This is the same problem with computers. Producers cannot simply supply the masses with more computers and hope that this increased supply of information will somehow inaugurate change and innovation. It is up to the masses not to become increasingly aware of what is going on around them but to take action. Knowledge does not equal power but the application of knowledge does.
    Winner’s second argument is that the increased number of libraries would do little good unless people are sufficiently well educated to use those libraries to broaden their knowledge and understanding. This is the same issue with computers. If the issue is economic then people with the most money will have better and/or faster internet service and therefore have access to more information at a faster rate. If the issue is taking a stand on democratic issues then one might need to have a basic understanding of how to use computers and a decent level of grammar in order to communicate how they feel to the mass public. I mostly agree with Winner’s argument that computers do not automatically increase democratization because action always needs to be taken to get things done.

  5. Technology cannot save politics, because at the end of the day it is still participation that is needed. Given that technology has advanced so dynamically it would seem that the world would change because of technology when in fact the world is changing around technology. It is not the technology (i.e. the computer) that makes the world change, it is the affect that the computer has on the people which changes the way that they function with the computer as part of their everyday lives. To clarify a little more, the computer does not directly change a person, the affect of the computer does. So, if the topic is how the internet may change politics, then it can be said that the internet or computers change the way which politicians may campaign, but it will not inherently change the way that the people will vote. This is something that Langdon Winner points out in his article “Mythinformation”, when he talks of computers bringing on a more democratic society.

    Langdon starts by explaining the idea that computers were believed to bring about democracy because of the wealth of knowledge that becomes so easily attainable through computer access. He claims many believed “the almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living”, almost the same as the industrial revolution in the same sense that new technology would really help things out when in fact, it made things worse (Winner 592). It is a really simple view to believe that technology would help politics, given that technology really isn’t there to help, as much as make things slightly easier (while, in turn, making things slightly more complicated) by using a speedier way of processing information. Really it is the same information, being streamed through new medias in the case of politics, but since the media is so new and really only able to be used in the hands of those elite few who know how to work it well, it is very foolish to believe that the average lower class can really understand at a difficult level. Especially when schooling is involved. Without becoming too biased and more realistic, a simpler way of putting it is if one cannot afford it, then one need not understand it. So if the same people who care about politics, who have the schooling and understand are voting for the same people and the lower or average person is doing the same, then it will continue in the same manner with computers. Only now there will be faster segregation and just as the little man catches up, the larger man will already be gone. Or, in other words, those who know the art do not have to master the art. Those who know the computer have nothing to learn or waste their time while looking for information. Those who do not know the art must take time and practice getting to know it, before they can even begin. Those who do not have the knowledge of a computer cannot even turn it on, let alone browse the internet for “knowledge”. So, this Utopian view that knowledge is power, the computer is knowledge and if everyone has a computer than everyone has knowledge is a little null.

  6. This class has given way to awareness of the underlying naivety of society where technology is concerned. As a digital culture, we never really slow down enough to think critically about the resources used daily. We go with the flow. We receive new technologies, new updates with excitement. We never stop to think about the effects of these technologies. Each version is bigger and better than ever before. We are obsessed with making life easier by upgrading technologies. Have you heard about the touch-screen laundry machine? It’ll cost you thousands of dollars but it’s just so awesome that it’ll make your clothes washing days feel like a vacation.
    In “Mythinformation,” Langdon Winner dissects our nativity and dismantles our Utopian-esque digital society. Mythinformation, Winner defines, is the “almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living.” In other words, using computers and other technological systems will bring rainbows and butterflies to our world and everything will be wonderful and glitch-free! Wrong-o!! This so did not happen.
    Computer scientists and social scientists of the 1980’s had a vision for our future. They saw a world interconnected by computers and communications systems. They saw a world in which information was the main source of wealth and which flowed so quickly and so effortlessly that it trumped all forms of traditional communication. This live-wire feed of data was going to create universal democracy where all peoples lived in harmony. The only truth to their theory is that we do live in a time in which we are interconnected by electronic information systems. Home computers are linked to all others worldwide. But even with this electronic web, there are so many left out of the loops. There are still countries were computers are not commonplace. There is still an unequal distribution of information.
    The age of computers has also experienced a shift in power but not the way envisioned. The power did not shift to us, the people. There was never a leveling of power, of hierarchy. Instead, the large transnational business corporations were the ones to benefit the most. Other branches to receive this power were public bureaucracies, intelligence agencies and the military. We, the ordinary people, are currently affected by the big guys. There is a higher level of oppression not social liberty. This unequal power is ignored by computer enthusiasts. Winner writes, “Computer enthusiasts…strongly suggest that the good society will be realized as…a spin off from the vast proliferation of computing devices. There is evidently no need to try to shape the institutions of the information age in ways that maximize human freedom while placing limits upon concentrations of power.” The computer enthusiasts, those who see computers as the ultimate answer to Utopia amongst humanity, feel as though the technologies themselves will balance out the power. Peace will be a side effect? According to them, the human component is obsolete. They feel as though the leveling will occur AFTER technology had become elite and not a moment before.
    But if you take the humanity out of technology, what reason is there left to develop it further?

  7. I am not really sure if we are allowed to totally stray from the prompt, but I am going to try it out. I really enjoyed the discussion we had in class on this reading. I found a few of the points brought up in class from the article very interesting, and I wanted to blog about them. Winner introduces the idea that information=knowledge=power=democracy. However, the issue with this is that is it far too idealistic. Also, it is very important to consider that the use of power is far more important than the possession of power. A sentence from the article states, “An advocate of the computer revolution might therefore argue that increasing access to information has enhances democracy and equalized social power” (Winner 587). This goes along with something we were talking about in class – power will not shift because of the computer because people in power will have the first and best access to the computer and all. The computer revolution does not equalize power at all. It gives some people more power over others.

  8. Although many people 25 years ago assumed that computers would bring about positive social change and a social revolution in our society, I have to agree with Langdon Winner in “Mythinformation” that this wishful thinking is incorrect. One main assumption that Winner discusses, “Inequalities of wealth and privilege will gradually fade away. One writer predicts that computer networks will ‘offer major opportunities to disadvantaged groups to acquire the skills and social ties they need to become full members of society’” (591). Many people have proclaimed that the widespread use of technology in everyday life, although creating drastic change for all, would totally revolutionize the lives of those in poverty and begin to reduce the gaps in income inequity; however it is easy to see that in today’s world that although technology has made technology available for widespread use, there are still many people who do not have access to computers or if they do have access to computers there is no guarantee that those computers will be used for educational purposes. In our society, due to public libraries, schools, and community centers many people who cannot afford to have a computer within their homes are able to actually have access to the computer, however the advantage does still lie with the people who have computers at home. For example, as a child I was fortunate enough that my mother understood the importance of computers and therefore saved up money for us to have one in our house, therefore I was able to learn about and become familiar with computers from an early age. Many children that I knew growing up did not have that opportunity and the only time they even had access to computers was when we were at school, putting them at a much greater disadvantage to someone who has 24/7 access. This was especially true once I got to high school because most of my assignments were required by my teachers to be typed on a computer so if someone did not have a computer at home they would have to go out of their way to gain access to a computer to use. Therefore the people who could afford computers still had the advantage over people who could not afford computers because they had greater time and access to a computer for their assignments. According to Winner, “current developments in the information age suggest and increase in power by those who already had a great deal of power” (592). This is affirms the idea that those who have access to technology are the same people who were advantaged to begin with so it will still be more difficult for people in lower classes to gain power. Many have also speculated that the greater access to information that the computer provides will automatically lead to people being more knowledgeable however, it is pretty clear that this is not the case. Computers in this day and age, although providing greater access to information, do not necessarily guarantee that that information will be used to provide skills for the economically disadvantaged. Lack of access to information cannot be the only problem because Winner cites and important example, “The U.S. Army, for instance, must now reject or dismiss a fairly high percentage of the young men and women it recruits because they simply cannot read military manuals. It is not doubt true of these recruits that they have a great deal of information about the world…What makes them functionally illiterate is that they have not learned to translate this information into a mastery of practical skills” (593). Although people argue that technology will offer major opportunities for those who are disadvantaged, access will not guarantee that they will be successful because of the fact that they never learned to make use of that information. For example in my own life, there is free access to the internet available at the public library, the same place where there is tons of books about anything that someone would want to learn, but yet many times when you go into the library you will find that a very high percentage of the people on the computers are on websites like Facebook and twitter or they are playing games or listening to music. Although they are in the midst of tons of information these people are not using it to empower their lives. I am in agreement with Winner in that yes it is good that information is widely available, however people should be well aware of the fact that “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” knowledge comes from education and the ability to process information effectively so technology is great but it needs to be combined with education and other services if people expect it to be empowering to those who are in lower social classes.

  9. In the article “Mythinformation,” Langdon Winner explains his reasons as to why the computer won’t evoke social change. Throughout the article, Winner mentions the term “computer revolution” as meaning that “the use of advanced communications technologies is producing a sweeping set of transformations in every corner of social life,” (p. 588). This suggests that the computer is transforming the way we humans interact with life. This makes sense in the fact that without computers, there would be no ATM machines, TVs, or even street lights, and all of these things are essential to how society is run today. There is no doubt that computers did in fact contribute a great deal towards the human condition, but according to Langdon, those who argue that the computer does in fact elicit a social change on society as a whole are faulty. Langdon uses the term “mythinformation” in explaining his argument that the computer has limits. Mythinformation is “the almost religious conviction that a widespread adoption of computers and communications systems along with easy access to electronic information will automatically produce a better world for human living,” (p.592). The quote itself is pretty self-explanatory but essentially what Langdon argues is against this idea itself – that the computer will change the ailments and the problems of the world. An example that Langdon uses involves politics. According to Langdon, “If people begin to rely upon computerized data bases and telecommunications as a primary means of exercising power, it is conceivable that genuine political knowledge based in first-hand experience would vanish altogether. The vitality of democratic politics depends upon people’s willingness to act together in pursuit of their common ends. It requires that on occasion members of a community appear before each other in person, speak their minds, deliberate on paths of action, and decide what they will do,” (p. 594). This means that for Langdon, in order for social change to be successful, people must meet face-to-face and discuss the issue at hand and work out solutions to that issue.

    In regards to online chat rooms and blogs that require a person to write their opinions on a subject matter, let’s say on elections, a person is able to comment on a forum and other online users are allowed to read the comment and reply back to that user. According to Langdon, this type of social interaction will not eradicate discrimination or other biases. But of course, come to think of it nothing will. But what Langdon is essentially saying is that writing a blog post will not necessarily evict a radical change in society. However, I will say that there have been instances where this has been the case to a degree. For example, Justin Beiber was “discovered” on the web after he posted a series of videos on YouTube of him singing. Rapper Drake was “founded” after posting his music on MySpace. But I wouldn’t say that the “discovery” of Beiber and Drake has sparked a massive social change in the world – maybe in our nation, but I doubt that the starving children in Africa or some other poor country care as much about these two. In regards to computer technology today in causing social change, I think it can be possible that there is some degree of change in our social world could be affected by what we say on the web, especially crazy videos that get posted on YouTube and then finally make their way on national news and become the talk of the day or so. Back 25 years prior, YouTube did not exist and it did not appear that people made a big deal on nonsense like they do today. So that is where I stand on computer and social change. Particularly pointing out social networking sites like FaceBook, Twitter, and of course YouTube because it appears that today, anything that is posted on these sites could cause some degree of change to our society. For example, what celebs post on Twitter is now national news today. But in regards to long-standing issues like poverty and human-trafficking, I do agree with Langdon when he says that people should come together and deliberate on the matter, because sensitive issues like those cannot be solved by YouTube videos and blog posts alone – action must be done.

  10. It is true that having access to computers and all the information they contain is a sort of revolutionary experience. It has revolutionized the way we think, our perceptions, and the way we interact with one another. We have become more knowledgeable, intuitive, and intellectual than we were previously and that is because of the information shared and created with computers. We have not, however, learned to use this technology to effectively enact change. Our easy access to the information provided to us by computers has not taught us how to use it to bring about a better democracy or rebel against powerful corporations. Instead, we accept the information they give us unquestioningly. We allow our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes to be shaped by the media we receive which is being supported by these huge corporations whose only focus is to make a profit.

    In Langdon Winner’s “Mythinformation” he lays out common characteristics of a revolution as seen in the past. The one thing that they all had in common was that the people initiated change and tried to see it all the way through. Even if the end result was failure the point is the leaders of the revolution had a specific goal in mind and made it happen. The computer or information revolution is significantly different because “what is emphasized …is a vision of drastically altered social and political conditions, a future upheld as desirable and, in all likelihood, inevitable” (Winner 590). We have become passive receivers of information instead of active seekers. The way we use information does not anticipate a revolution, it is the illustration of our acceptance of how our lives are being run.

  11. Being a student in college and a person in the modern world, technology is constantly surrounding us. We are greatly affected by the modern technology that we have. Our daily lives require that we have constant contact with technology. And as newer and better technology is created, the more contact people will have with it. As Winner brings up the point on the ideology of computer enthusiasts, that “there is none more poignant than the faith that the computer is destined to become a potent equalizer in modern society” (595), he then breaks down this ideology with his argument that “beliefs that widespread use of computers will cause hierarchies to crumble, inequality to tumble, participation to flourish, and centralized power to dissolve simply do not withstand close scrutiny” (595). I agree with this completely because with increased access to information does not change the fact the people will not automatically decide to put problems aside and come together to form a complete and total democracy. Its way too idealistic. Winner even says so when he writes, “but democracy is not founded solely (or even primarily) upon conditions that affect the availability of information” (594). More things have to occur amongst the people for democracy to happen, but access to information and knowledge will help.

  12. In his article Mythinformation, Langdon Winner critiques what he calls computer romanticists and their idea that the computer will ultimately make the world a better place. Winner states “computer romanticism is merely the latest version of the ninteenth- and twentieth-century faith we noted earlier, on that has always expected to generate freedom, democracy, and justice through sheer material abundance.” The 1980’s, the emergence of the computer brought about the information revolution. The thought was that the computer would allow information to become easily accessible to the masses, therefore everyone would be educated and society would be able to function ideally. Winner didn’t believe this at all, and about 25 years after writing his article, Winner was right. It’s true that the computer, with help from the internet, has made information accessible. From Winner’s point of view, information has always been widely available via books. Books were accessible via libraries, but the people that wanted to utilize those resources did so and the people that didn’t want to didn’t. The same holds true for computers. Just because the information is there doesn’t mean that everyone will take advantage of it. Winner better describes this fallacy by stating that the “mistakes sheer supply of information with an educated ability to gain knowledge and act effectively based on that knowledge.” I mostly agree with Winner. Computers and the internet allow people to do things that weren’t even imaginable 30 years ago. The initial idea that the computer would create a revolution was too idealistic and not very realistic. The
    In terms of the computer’s affect on politics, Winner raised the concern that instead of people becoming more involved due to technological advances, people would in fact become less involved. Winner gives the example of the television’s affect on public participation in voting. Television allows people to feel as though they are involved, even if they are not due to the ease of access to news and televised debates. Winner worries that the computer will not enthuse people further to partake in political actions. In this sense, I would have to disagree with Winner. A lot of the information I get on candidates and issues happening in the political world I receive from the internet. In some ways, I think the internet really has actually fueled and enthused people to become more politically involved. There are many websites that you provide information that allow you to make informed decisions. Unlike television, the internet allows you to more so create your own ideas and thoughts rather than having someone else’s opinion thrown at you whether you want it or not.
    In conclusion, though information is now abundant and easily accessible, only those that seek it reap its benefits. Though Winner was concerned that the introduction of the computer would not positively affect public involvement in politics, the computer has created more positive affects than the television did. Overall, Winner’s concern about the computer’s affect on the future was legitimate and he created a more realistic idea about affects of technology.

  13. Written in the 1980s, “Mythinformation,” by Langdon Winner is an article that examines how the future for computer technology will be in the future and how the effects of democratization with continuous use of computing. Winner mentions various concerns about how technology affects people’s lives and he lists four key assumptions that are made politically about having the use of computers. His arguments and concerns influence the reader in today’s society to begin to think about how much Winner was correct in his predictions.
    One critique that Winner uses is on the subject matter of having a distorted image of what the role of computing has on if looked upon through the four key assumptions. The first two of these four assumptions are: “(1) people are bereft of information; (2) information is knowledge…” (593). Winner also conjures up the question of do people actually faces shortages of information. He continues onward to state that computing was created mainly on the sole reason to purposely help spread information. As Winner argues, “Information shortage would be remedied in much the same way that developing a new fuel supply might solve an energy crisis” (593). In other words, he is saying that while the information may be sorted throughout, the act of using potential knowledge from the “learned” information is nonexistent. Later on Winner argues again that with these computing systems, the biased supporters for them neglect that there are other sources for one to gather information (public libraries).
    Ironically, the idea of democratization and other various accounts of political involvements arise from the issue of the continuous growth of having computer access. In fact, Winner claims, “An equally serious misconception among computer enthusiasts is the belief that democracy is first and foremost a matter of distributing information” (594). In explained terms this means that our society views the internet as a means of using it because we feel that information must be shared with immediacy and we also believe that by using “democracy” we can distribute information through multiple hands at once.
    I thoroughly agree with Langdon Winner on his argument of the falsely believe key assumptions about information and the assumptions of having democratization being used. Even though he predicted these problems in the 1980s, his arguments are nowhere near incompetent to fact. Many of his concerns are happening in today’s society with computing and it appears to be gradually getting worse.

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