Thursday, April 12, 2012
Steven D. Brown and Geoffrey M. Lightfoot on knowledge, after the breakdown.
The displacing of whatever is “to hand” forces us to consider anew the
“region” in which that equipment was set up. Calculative questioning is then replaced by a more thoroughgoing scrutiny. It is this kind of enquiry that we might see as resulting in knowledge proper. In other words, as long as our technologies of informing are functioning adequately, we may choose to entirely ignore the manner in which they actually set about informing us. Yet, when a problem arises which calls into question this mode of informing, then we are impelled to reflect upon the very nature of the technology which serves us and its relation to the world.

This failure to inform which spurs reflection on that which grounds the technology itself is the general circumstance that Winograd and Flores (1986) call “breakdowns”. Breakdowns impel questioning towards knowledge, just as the “inconspicuous familiarity” of the “to hand” serves the incessant desire for information. To complete our account we have only to add that these two modes of understanding, the one aimed at what is essential, the other at what is ready-to-hand and thus tending toward the superficial, have very different temporal characteristics. Knowledge occurs in the wake of the breakdown. It proceeds slowly, perhaps without clear direction. Information is governed entirely by its readiness, its immediacy. It is set completely in place by the technologies which
make it possible.
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