With the advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics, technologies now permeate and engage with humans in a radically different manner. Technologies actively mediate how people relate to the world. Technological mediation rests on the centrality that objects help shape relations between human beings and the world. This approach of technology does not view material objects as opposed to human subjects, or as mere extensions of humans, instead, it sees them as mediators of human-world relations.
Why do we need to know technological mediation?
Technological mediation is a “post-phenomenological” approach in the philosophy of technology (Rosenberger & Verbeek 2015, p.vii). Post-phenomenology is partially opposed to the phenomenological tradition (Verbeek 2015, p.26). Although inspired by the phenomenological focus on the experiential, it distances itself from phenomenology’s romanticism toward technology, favouring empirical analyses of actual technologies. Technological mediation is a framework that first, rejects human-centred subjectivity to factor in displacing the human body by non-human others. Next, ontologies are mapped horizontally rather than vertically. Horizontal ontologies assumes humans as embedded in a natural-cultural-technological assemblage (Weiss, Propen & Reid 2014, p.xvii). This is similar to the conceptualisation of hyperobjects. Technological mediation offers four ways of human-technology relations:
- Embodiment relation: (I–Technology) > World.
- Refers to a magnification/reduction structure. For example, binoculars enable the user to see further. The repetitive usage of binoculars in a particular setting would gradually embody itself within the user.
- Hermeneutic relation: I > (Technology–World)
- Refers to a transforming encounter with the world via the direct experience and interpretation of the technology itself. For example, checking the weather from a smartphone requires the direct interpretation of the user that transforms numbers to weather forecast knowledge.
- Alterity relation: I > Technology – (– World)
- Refers to devices or interfaces that are designed specifically to mimic the shape of person-to-person interaction. For example, withdrawing cash at ATMs or conversing with Siri.
- Background relation: Makes up the user’s environmental context and shares an indirect relationship.
- For example, central air conditioning that operates on its pre-set settings. (Rosenberger & Verbeek 2015, pp.14–18)
I feel at ease having Google Maps directing a guided path to my destination and allows me to monitor traffic conditions. Sometimes during peak hours, I just ignore its recommendations when I know the route through the back street is quicker.
I feel in control when Google Maps adapts to my driving even though I may have missed a turn.
With Google Maps, my family has increased confidence in my driving as they entrust the app to get to our destination.
As shown, navigational app users engage in ongoing discursive practices with the app through negotiating and subverting information (Weiss, Propen & Reid 2014, p.23). At times, the navigational app supplements the user by providing traffic information and in turn, the user may choose to use the app supplementally when the information does not correlate to the user’s knowledge.
With this brief illustration, I hope to have convince you why technological mediation is important and to demonstrate what might the future of anthropology look like.
Rosenberger, R & Verbeek, P-P (eds) 2015, Postphenomenological Investigations: Essays on Human-Technology Relations, Lexington Books, Lanham,MD.
Verbeek, P-P 2015, ‘Beyond interaction: a short introduction to mediation theory’, Interactions, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 26–31.
Weiss, DM, Propen, AD & Reid, CE (eds) 2014, Design, Mediation, and the Posthuman, Lexington Books, New York, NY.
Zane’s piece on Design Anthropology
Julia’s piece on Job Automation
Rita’s piece on Posthumanism
Lionel’s piece on Surveillance Capitalism