Situated Mediation and Technological Reflexivity: Smartphones, Extended Memory, and Limits of Cognitive Enhancement

In Frank Scalambrino (ed.), Social Epistemology and Technology: Toward Public Self-Awareness Regarding Technological Mediation. New York: Rowman & Littlefield International. pp. 187-195 (2015)
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Abstract

The situated potentials for action between material things in the world and the interactional processes thereby afforded need to be seen as not only constituting the possibility of agency, but thereby also comprising it. Eo ipso, agency must be de-fused from any local, "contained" subject and be understood as a situational property in which subjects and objects can both participate. Any technological artifact should thus be understood as a complex of agential capacities that function relative to any number of social and material factors. Keeping in mind that we are co-constituted by webs of relations involving increasingly complex collections of artefacts, networks, niches, and communities of practice, our investigation will be guided by interrogating the functional potential of a thing that in the last fifteen years has seamlessly worked its way into the everyday life of millions of human agents. This "thing," the smartphone, is merely a nodal point in a highly complex network. Recognizing this massive "collective," we nevertheless want to show some of the ways in which something as seemingly mundane as a smartphone can reflexively alter the range of actions available to a cognitive agent (Latour 1994). Specifically, we hope to shed light on some of the social-cognitive consequences of technological mediation by looking at the complementary, if not mutually implied, domains of memory and knowledge.

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Chris Drain
Dartmouth College

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