How Technology Is Changing Our Relationship to Everything

“电灯泡”时刻 费尔南多Nascimento occurred one day a few years ago when he was driving a minivan full of teenagers—his kids and their friends— back from an afternoon’s paint-balling.
费尔南多Nascimento (L) and 埃里克·乔恩 in conversation at the Bowdoin Library

“他们异常安静,” thought the assistant professor of digital and computational studies (DCS) as he looked back to see all his passengers sitting with their heads down, 明显地忽视对方.

作为一个青少年, if he’d been playing paintball with his friends all afternoon, 之后他们就不能闭嘴了, 他推断. 问题是什么?? Later, he asked one of his kids why they weren’t talking to each other on the way back. “你这是什么意思?对方回答说. “我们一直在聊天——通过我们的手机!“Nascimento described this moment as a “key insight” into the “digital metaphor,” a concept underlining the extent to which our use of devices such as smartphones and apps like 脸谱网 and TikTok is changing not just the way we use language, 而是我们与世界的关系.

Nascimento spoke at a recent event at the Bowdoin College Library alongside colleague 埃里克·乔恩, the Sarah and James Bowdoin Professor of Digital and Computational Studies. Chown and Nascimento were there to promote their recent book, 有意义的技术: 数字隐喻如何改变我们的思维和生活方式 (密歇根大学出版社,2023年).

“Metaphors are used everywhere; they have to be,Chown说。, 来解释复杂的工艺过程. 我们不会考虑触摸屏幕意味着什么. Because it’s so seamless and seemingly so transparent, we forget what it’s actually doing.”

例如, teenagers today are likely to use the word “conversation” to refer to a series of database entries exchanged over a network. 与此同时, social media apps like 脸谱网 and Snapchat are redefining what terms like “friendship” and “memory” mean. Also consider the word “cloud,” which is where much of our data is stored, Chown added. “听起来不错,不是吗?? 但这些数据中心是巨大的实体存在, 使用大量的电力和水, 制造污染.”


又是一个既能解释又能欺骗人的比喻, 说Nascimento, 是“流,,比如数据流或视频流. “当我们想到流媒体, 首先想到的是清洁, 朝一个方向流动的水. 没人知道你在上游做什么. 当我们打开这个比喻, 然而, 我们看到了, 虽然有助于解释某些方面, 它隐藏了这样一个事实:每次你流媒体的时候, someone is measuring how much ‘water’ you are taking out.”

Furthermore, these technological changes have been taking place with unprecedent rapidity. 正如Chown和Nascimento在他们的书中指出的那样, 在短短三年多的时间里,TikTok的用户达到了10亿, whereas it took the telephone seventy-five years to reach a tenth of that number of people.

The book is the culmination of a series of conversations that began between the two in 2017, shortly after Nascimento arrived at Bowdoin as postdoctoral teaching fellow. These conversations became more regular and structured as they talked increasingly about the importance of metaphors to describe the relationship between humans and technology.

虽然他们都是DCS学者, Chown and Nascimento have quite different academic backgrounds: Chown in computer science and Nascimento in philosophy—which helped inform the development of the book as they learned from each other.

“As a cognitive scientist,Chown说。, “I was initially skeptical of philosophers. ‘They just want to throw monkey wrenches, we want to make stuff’ was how I thought,” he explained. 但这种情况很快就改变了. “Fernando’s perspective is very different from my cognitive science perspective, 这促使我用另一种方式思考, 非常有效的方法.”

“Metaphors are used everywhere; they have to be in order to explain complex technological processes. 我们不会考虑触摸屏幕意味着什么. Because it’s so seamless and seemingly so transparent, we forget what it’s actually doing.” Professor 埃里克·乔恩, Digital and Computational Studies.

“Did writing the book change their relationship to technology?两人被问到. “是的,”琼毫不含糊地回答. “Every day I go into class talking about attention and the ‘attention economy,’ and DCS reminds me I have the most addictive device invented on me at all times.” If he becomes too fond of an app, particularly a game, it has to go, he added. “我对待游戏的原则是,我必须有点喜欢它们.“Nascimento, 与此同时, described the trajectory of writing the book as “impactful” as it spurred him to think more about how metaphors are created and how they are changing the ways we interact with technology.

也许是这本书最重要的收获, Chown和Nascimento认为, is the provision of a critical framework to help people reexamine their relationship with technology and regain some of their agency over it.

As well as appealing to digital and computational scholars, say the authors, 有意义的技术 也针对受过一般教育的读者, especially those interested in the increasingly important issues regarding the ethical impacts of digital technologies.

Read more about Chown and Nascimento’s work on digital metaphors