Conspicuous abstention: Why is there no psychology of technology?

Technology has become a ubiquitous feature of everyday life, in the twenty-first century “global village”. It seems reasonable to expect a corresponding sub-field concerned with the psychological aspects of technology. What is technology’s impact affectively and relationally? What are its effects cognitively, or on the imagination? How does it qualitatively transform experience and perspective? The set of studies undertaking these inquiries would compose at worse a focus, at best a subdiscipline, called “the psychology of technology”. However, even a cursory review of the literature shows there is no such focus, let alone a subdiscipline. In fact the opposite obtains: psychology is conspicuous by its absence.  

In addition to being conspicuous, this absence is also surprising because there are two significant precedents from which psychology could draw. One is the ersatz tradition of “the philosophy of technology”, a continuity of questioning within philosophy instigated by the ground-breaking work of figures like Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul focused on the phenomenon of technology. The second is the emergence of an interdisciplinary field of “technology studies”, primarily as a development within and differentiation of the older and more broadly-defined field of “science studies”. This emergence, which can be dated to the 1980s, has been significant enough to warrant the increasingly-accepted nomenclature of “science and technology studies”. In this paper I examine these two precedents of work on technology, and their fitful relations, prior to situating them vis-à-vis psychology. I argue, utilizing insights from psychology’s “new historiography”, that psychology is not merely absent, but is conspicuously abstaining from engaging technology, because it’s about power.

Peet, C. (2008). Conspicuous abstention: Why is there no psychology of technology? Paper presented at Western Canadian Theoretical Psychology Annual Conference, held in Edmonton, Alberta, 30 Oct. –Nov. 2, 2008.

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