Technology as a cure, from the oven to the telephone

Gabriele Balbi, associate professor in media studies at the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society, talks, in a short video, about technology in the broadest sense of the term, as a form of cure in these times of coronavirus.

The rediscovery of the oven in our homes, the instruments strummed on the balconies, the walkie talkies used again to communicate between rooms and floors: in these days technology, digital and not, accompanies us in our daily life and is to be considered, as Gabriele Balbi says, therapeutic in the days marked by the invitation to #stayhome.

"It is a contribution that aims to overcome the debate on good or bad technologies, a subject that has already been highlighted by various scholars such as Umberto Eco, who already in 1964 observed how the media were judged in an apocalyptic-negative or integrated-positive way" explains Balbi. This duality has reappeared with digital media, seen as a remedy for all evils or as a new driver for inequality and surveillance. Today, with the Coronavirus, the (false) polarization of this debate is: do we prefer to protect our health or our freedom as individuals (the historian Yuval Noah Harari recently spoke on this issue)’.

Balbi instead proposes a reflection starting from the most popular of the six laws that the technology historian Melvin Kranzberg formulated in 1986: "technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral". It is a fact that technology has not proved to be neutral in these long days of confinement at home. First of all, we use various technologies that were already part of our daily lives and we have rediscovered others. Communication technologies, for example. We rely everyday on WhatsApp, Skype, Panopto, Microsoft Teams and many other digital tools to maintain a semblance of normality, to continue to exchange information and remain "social animals" as we are by nature. But, as ratings and circulation data tell us, we also have rediscovered traditional media, such as television and newspapers, perhaps because they provide a sense of security in a period characterized by infodemia (one of the four keywords to understand journalism during a pandemic according to Philip di Salvo).

Balbi’s analysis, however, goes beyond communication technologies and includes the "rediscovery" of other technologies: the kitchen oven or musical instruments, for example. The Coronavirus has encouraged a return to the use of kitchen ovens, and gave us back the taste for home cooking, or the pleasure of sharing our musical talents, with nothing in return but physical proximity. It is therefore also through technology that, in these complex moments, we decide to cure ourselves and others. "Technology and humanity are not distinct nor distinguishable: our humanity is such also because we have certain technologies at our fingertips, in which we take refuge. Technology is therefore not neutral, as Kratzberg would have said, but palliative, perhaps curative at this moment. Could we imagine our days in quarantine without these technologies?" Balbi concludes. That’s why the controversial technology, alongside literature as already proposed by Corrado Bologna , can be a cure, a refuge, even a shelter for the social changes taking place out there.

In the quicklinks on the side of the page: if technologies seem to cure us in Coronavirus times, we must at the same time distance ourselves from the idea that they naturally enhance our lives (the so-called life enhancing technology). About this myth, launched and supported by many digital companies also for their own economic interests, a recent in-depth analysis by Gabriele Balbi and Luca Visconti.