Technological Constructivism

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= "For us, “technological constructivism” is the perspective that technology and society influence each other in complex ways that cannot be predicted and therefore require constant vigilance by representatives from all stakeholders". [1]


by Jem Bendell and Matthew Slater:

"We humans attach a great deal of importance to technology because it seems to be able to meet many of our needs and desires. It brings aspects of our imagination into physical reality in ways that then reshape our lives and what we might imagine next. This utility of technology makes selling it very possible, but also means there is less emphasis given to the costs and consequences of those desires being met in those ways.

Given its centrality in civilisation, a range of perspectives on our relationship to technology have arisen. Some optimists believe any negative consequences are worth the benefit, and that the march of technology is synonymous with the march of human progress. This view is called “technological optimism”. Others believe that technology takes humans further from their natural state, isolating them from the world, and causing numerous new problems which often require further technological solutions. These “technological pessimists” can point to a range of dangerous situations such as nuclear waste, climate change and antibiotic resistance, to then question the hubris that humanity may have exhibited in thinking our technology meant we can exert influence on nature without an eventual response of equivalent impact on ourselves. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that modern technologies have a quality of seeking to dominate nature rather than work with it, in ways that stem from - and contribute to - the illusion that humans are separate agents acting on nature.

Some of these optimists and pessimists don’t think that we humans have much influence on what is happening. Such “technological determinism” is the view that technology can be understood as having a logic of its own and develops as an unfolding of consciousness in ways that we, our entrepreneurs or our politicians, will not, in principle, control. Current debates about the merits or risks of blockchains and cryptocurrencies often echo these perspectives. Some argue it will change, or even save, the world. Others argue that it will collapse the financial basis of our nation states. Still others argue that whatever our view, it IS the future - as if it cannot be stopped.

Counter-posed to these views on technology has been the “technological neutralist” view which suggests that technology is neither inherently good or bad for humanity and therefore needs responsible management to maximise its intended benefits and minimise its unintended drawbacks. That view is the most widespread in the field of Science, Technology and Society (STS) studies. Sociologists have revealed as pure fiction the apolitical view of technology development as flowing from basic science, to applied science, development, and commercialization. Instead, a variety of relevant stakeholder groups compete to influence a new technology and they determine how it becomes stabilised as an element of society.

Therefore, despite the pervasiveness of “great man” stories in our culture, technological innovation is not the result of heroes introducing new ‘technologies’ and release them into ‘society,’ starting a series of (un)expected impacts. Rather, innovation is a complex process of “co-construction” in which technology and society, to the degree that they could even be conceived separately of one another, negotiate the role of new technological artefacts, alter technology through resistance, and construct social and technological concepts and practices.

We share this perspective on technology. It invites us to see how innovation is a social process that we can choose to engage in to achieve public goals. We are not, however, “technology neutralists”, for a few reasons. First, we do not believe that all technologies have the same level of negative or positive potential prior to their human control. That is because all kinds of different phenomena exist under the one banner “technology”. For instance, while nuclear fission constantly produces poisons which require millennia of custody, smart decision-making algorithms only impact the world insofar as their decisions are acted upon. Second, we do not assume humanity to be the autonomous agent in our relationship with technology. Rather, we are influenced by the technologies that shape the society we are born into. Canadian philosopher of technology, Professor Andrew Feenberg explains this situation as humans and technology existing in an entangled hierarchy. “Neither society nor technology can be understood in isolation from each other because neither has a stable identity or form” he explains.

For us, “technological constructivism” is the perspective that technology and society influence each other in complex ways that cannot be predicted and therefore require constant vigilance by representatives from all stakeholders who are directly and indirectly affected. The implication of this perspective for innovation in blockchain and cryptographic currencies is that the intentions of innovators and financiers are important to know and influence, and that wider stakeholder participation in shaping the direction and governance of the technology is essential. This is the approach that we base our view of developments in software in general and blockchains, in particular." (

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