The Transformative Potential of Technology

Written by

Lisa Wade, Ph.D.

When Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School, he was carrying a Bushmaster .223 caliber Remington semiautomatic.  This is the frightening weapon he used to take the lives of 27 people:

The refrain — “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” — does an injustice to the complicated homotechnocultural phenomenon that we call a massacre.

Evan Selinger, at The Atlantic, does a wonderful job taking apart the “guns don’t kill people” phrase.  It assumes an instrumentalist view of technology, where we bend it to our will.  In contrast, he argues in favor of a transformative view: when humans interact with objects, they are transformed by that interaction.  A gun changes how a person sees the world.  Selinger writes:

“To someone with a gun, the world readily takes on a distinct shape. It not only offers people, animals, and things to interact with, but also potential targets.”

In other words, if you have a hammer, suddenly all the world’s problems look like nails to you (see Law of the Instrument).  The wonderful French philosopher Bruno Latour put it this way:

“You are different with a gun in your hand; the gun is different with you holding it. You are another subject because you hold the gun; the gun is another object because it has entered into a relationship with you.”

So, that’s the homotechnological part of the story.  What of the cultural?


Read the full article in Sociological Images

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