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Let Them Eat Data

Let Them Eat Data: How Computers Affect Education, Cultural Diversity, and the Prospects of Ecological Sustainability

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Let Them Eat Data
    Book Description:

    Do computers foster cultural diversity? Ecological sustainability? In our age of high-tech euphoria we seem content to leave tough questions like these to the experts. That dangerous inclination is at the heart of this important examination of the commercial and educational trends that have left us so uncritically optimistic about global computing. Contrary to the attitudes that have been marketed and taught to us, says C. A. Bowers, the fact is that computers operate on a set of Western cultural assumptions and a market economy that drives consumption. Our indoctrination includes the view of global computing innovations as inevitable and on a par with social progress--a perspective dismayingly suggestive of the mindset that engendered the vast cultural and ecological disruptions of the industrial revolution and world colonialism. In Let Them Eat Data Bowers discusses important issues that have fallen into the gap between our perceptions and the realities of global computing, including the misuse of the theory of evolution to justify and legitimate the global spread of computers, and the ecological and cultural implications of unmooring knowledge from its local contexts as it is digitized, commodified, and packaged for global consumption. He also suggests ways that educators can help us think more critically about technology. Let Them Eat Data is essential reading if we are to begin democratizing technological decisions, conserving true cultural diversity and intergenerational forms of knowledge, and living within the limits and possibilities of the earth's natural systems.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4073-9
    Subjects: Education, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Part 1. Cultural and Ecological Consequences

    • [Part 1 Introduction]
      (pp. 1-2)

      Nearly everyone who owns a computer has found it to be a useful technology. The uses vary from sending e-mail to relatives and professional colleagues to modeling systems and delivering university courses to storing and retrieving data connected with business operations. More generally, the “experts” who promote globalization view the computer in a more messianic light, as the technology that will create new markets and thus reduce poverty and so-called backwardness in the seemingly undeveloped parts of the world. The Information Highway, according to their vision of the future, will not only increase efficiency in creating more goods and...

    • 1 Globalizing Cyberspace: Vision and Reality
      (pp. 3-15)

      The Palacio de Justicia in the Mexican city of Morelia offers its visitors conflicting cultural messages: while the Spanish colonial architecture communicates a sense of permanence to the graceful stone arches and inner courtyard, and a huge mural depicting the heroes of Mexican independence dominates the central staircase, across the Calle de Allende toward the entrance to the palace one sees banners protesting the 1995 government decisions leading to the loss of ancestral lands, and sleeping cots under the archway where a small group of Indians are in their thirtieth day of a hunger strike. The well-dressed bureaucrats and citizens...

    • 2 The Culture of Cyberspace and Everyday Life
      (pp. 16-47)

      The cost of participating in cyberspace—for individuals, corporations, and social institutions ranging from hospitals to universities—is high and climbing higher as the industry moves closer to realizing its vision of a ubiquitous and seamless web of information exchange. But the current and future losses connected with their experiment with the world’s cultural foundations cannot be measured only monetarily. While future economic losses may be gauged by environmental degradation, each culture will apply its own values when judging the impact of cyberspace on its traditions.

      The media occasionally portray economic losses connected with computer systems, such as the Internal...

    • 3 Displacing Wisdom with Data: Ecological Implications
      (pp. 48-75)

      At the fiftieth anniversary meeting of the Association of Computing Machinery held in 1997 in San Jose, California, leading contributors to computer development offered their views on the conference theme: “The Next Fifty Years of Computing.” Joel Birnbaum, director of laboratories at Hewlett-Packard, prophesied that computer technology might advance to the point where people would wear an auxiliary brain that could instantaneously translate a foreign language as well as amplify the experience of the aesthetically sensitive person. Vinton Cerf, who helped pioneer the Internet, envisioned the routines of daily life—drawing our bath water, cooking our breakfast, monitoring the quality...

    • 4 Evolutionary Theory and the Global Computer Culture
      (pp. 76-108)

      When the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico (NAFTA) went into effect in January 1994, thousands of Indians in Chiapas rebelled against this latest expression of modern economic development. Their struggle to retain their traditions in the face of international trade agreements led them to armed insurrection against the local representatives of the Mexican government; it also led them to use the Internet to communicate their demands to the outside world. Computer technology enabled them to communicate with international groups that eventually brought pressure on the Mexican government to switch from using tanks, fighter aircraft, and helicopters against the...

  5. Part 2. Educational Consequences

    • 5 The False Promises of Computer-Based Education
      (pp. 111-139)

      The national media are raising doubts about computers as an antidote to our systemic educational shortcomings. While some in academia had questioned the apparent educational gains of computers, their books were viewed as out of touch with the euphoria created by the computer industry’s heavily financed promotions and by professors who saw new career paths for themselves. Reservation from classroom teachers, which mostly took the form of passive resistance, similarly had no influence on school boards or on a computer industry determined to carry out the technological revolution essential to the Age of Information. Todd Oppenheimer’s article, “The Computer Delusion,”...

    • 6 Why Computers Should Not Replace Teachers
      (pp. 140-176)

      Two conferences on the educational uses of computers typify how complex educational, political, and ecological issues are being disregarded in the effort to make the computer as necessary to education as the older tradition of print that it is based upon. The conference, sponsored by the Benjamin Franklin Institute for Global Education and given technical support by Pacific Bell, Netscape Communications Corporation, and a subsidiary of Marshall Industries, was conducted in October 1997 over the Internet. The reach of the conference was truly global. The purpose was to showcase the more than thirty thousand college and university courses offered over...

    • 7 Rethinking Technology: What Educational Institutions Can Do
      (pp. 177-196)

      There is an assumption shared by computer proponents such as Esther Dyson and Nicholas Negroponte, by the decision makers and computer system experts who create the virtual universities and Internet-based classrooms, the business leaders and engineers who are moving goods and services into cyberspace, the people who design educational software, and the parents who pressure school officials to purchase more computers for the classroom. The assumption equates the development of new technologies (particularly computer-based technologies) with progress.

      To put this another way, they are addicted to technological innovation in the same way that people become addicted to drugs—and...

  6. References
    (pp. 197-204)
  7. Index
    (pp. 205-216)