Perhaps it depends on your definition of neutral?
Definition A: Not taking a side. Unbiased. Impartial.
Prior to the past two week’s readings, I have always been interested in advertising’s subliminal messaging. In Grade 9, I based my Science Fair project on this topic, along with eventually taking Psychology 11, religiously watching the Mad Men series and enjoying CBC’s “Under the Influence”. It would be difficult to dispute that messaging from advertisers have one goal— to sell their product and/or idea. I think it is also very legitimate to believe that as in advertising, Western influences are impacting indigeneous culture, amongst many other cultures, via technology and its messaging. In the essay, “Native People and the Challenge of Computers: Reservation Schools, Individualism and Consumerism” (Bowers, et al; 2000), the authors outline three fundamental ways native students interact with computer technology:
1. The Illusion of Autonomous Choice
Western culture seeping into students’ cultural belief systems.
2. The Commodification of Thought and Communication
Computer moguls IBM and Apple purchasing computers for schools thus reinforcing their brand for their future customers. (This is done throughout schools via vending machines, mounted TV screens and scoreboards, as well. For some reason, I need to go grab a Pepsi right now, but I don’t know why…)
3. The Objectification of Everything
The images on the screen are perceived as being real, in combination with educators’ mistakenly believing that student’s are constructing their own knowledge through the technology. Problematically, this “construction of knowledge” is being filtered through a Western lens.
Continuing on page 193, “… there is much more that can be learned from computers if the teacher understands that computers are a culture-mediating technology; teachers must understand how computers amplify certain cultural ways of knowing and how they reduce or eliminate others.”
It is clear to me that when these ideas are accepted as truth, I could not possibly argue that technology is culturally neutral.
Definition B: From a chemist’s perspective, neutrality is achieved when a solution has a pH of 7. It turns out that should one mix equal amounts of an acid with a base, a neutralization reaction occurs.
Let’s say for argument sake, that Western technology and the content it delivers, represents an acidic solution. Could we not then introduce equal amounts of non-Western, “basic solution” content, thus creating a culturally driven neutralization reaction?
As described in “Screen Memories Resignifying the Traditional in Indigenous Media” (Ginsburg & Faye, 2002), both indigenous producers in both Canada and Australia created authentic content in attempts to recoup lost histories that have been stamped out by the “dominant culture”. Could more content be created to neutralize the Western acidity?
At the end of the day, although I think that I could adopt the latter definition in the future, we are far from obtaining equal amounts of “acid and base” technologically delivered content. To that end, I would have to side with the viewpoint that technology is not culturally neutral, regardless of the chosen definition.
Bowers, C.A., Vasquez, M & Roaf, M. (2002). “Native People and the Challenge of Computers: Reservation Schools, Individualism, and Consumerism.”
Ginsburg, F. (2002). Screen Memories: Resignifying the Traditional in Indigenous Media. In Media Worlds: Anthropology on a New Terrain.