Getting used by our tools

While I don't know that it's actually happening, it's very possible and likely that our Web 2.0 tools are using us. Whenever tools use the user, the user is unaware of getting used. Tools don't share our interests or serve larger purposes. This offers one possible explanation for our "tools for engagement" yielding the same level or more disengagement among learners while the use of the tools is multiplying exponentially.

There are a few examples that have gained a lot of traction for this "tools using the user". It's been proposed that our petroleum burning vehicles are using us in ways to maximize travel distances and time behind the wheel in spite of our discomfort with smog, traffic jams, long commutes, loss of pedestrian environments and depletion of oil reserves.  In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins proposed that DNA is using human bodies as disposable instruments for its own replication and survival. Our specie's intense survival and mating instincts, accompanied by sporadic incidents of civilized conduct, lends credence to this reversal of "who's using who?". More recently, it's been proposed that the World Wide Web is using all of us contributors, searchers and shoppers to become more knowledgeable while maintaining the illusion that we humans are enhancing ourselves by using the web.

Our minds are very susceptible to getting used by our tools, proficiencies and expertise. Systems designers describe this pattern as: "the solution dictating the definition of the problem". The pattern is more frequently described as "to the kid with the hammer in his hand, everything looks like the head of a nail". There is no concept of there being "too much of a good thing" and no way to question any overuse or misuse.. There's no limit to how much, how often or how selectively to apply the tool. There's no awareness of the bigger picture, consistent pattern or neglected alternatives. This "solution dictating the problem" is easily observed in countless professionals:
  • lawyers see contentious misunderstandings as requiring litigation and legal services, not mediation, arbitration, financial support, counseling or training
  • team building consultants see breakdowns in business functions as a lack of teamwork that can be remedied with their expertise
  • surgeons see painful symptoms as requiring surgery, not changes in diet, exercise, sleep, medications or relationships
  • highway engineers see problems with congestion, travel time or access as a need for more and wider highways
If this pattern fits the use of Web 2.0 tools for learning, then the tools would be used for problems with motivation, attention span, compatibility with classmates, etc. We would be over prescribing the use of the tools while being very much unaware of getting used by the tools.

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