Technology, Intellectual Virtue, and the Knowledge Worker

Dr. Sue Stafford
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According to business and labor leaders, we are in the midst of two major transformations. The first transformation is to a knowledge society — a society in which knowledge will be the primary personal and economic resource. The second transformation is a technological transformation. While many business leaders have attempted to characterize this transformation, Carley Fiorna, CEO of Hewlett Packard, has perhaps put it most succinctly. According to Fiorna, three "seismic" changes will characterize the new era:

Every process is going digital, mobile, virtual and personal; things are becoming simpler, easier to use and more manageable; and increasingly value will be created by connecting things horizontally (Ashford 2004).

In this paper I discuss a tension inherent in these two transformations. For successful knowledge work, knowing isn't enough. Knowledge workers must apply their knowledge responsibly, creatively and well. Specific character traits, called intellectual virtues by the philosopher Aristotle, are critical to this practice. Technology, however, holds the potential to undermine the very processes that develop those character traits. Drawing on a distinction first made by Albert Borgmann between focal things and devices, I argue that the more ubiquitous devices become, the less opportunity there will be for the knowledge workers of the future to develop the intellectual virtues required for proficient knowledge work.

My argument proceeds in three steps. First, I discuss the growing ubiquity of what Albert Borgmann has called the device paradigm — the use of technology to deliver contextless, disposable commodities. The point of this discussion will be to focus on the impact of our increasing use of devices and the value of engaging with focal things in focal practices. Second, I explain how engagement in focal practices, broadly defined, can facilitate the development of intellectual virtues. Third, I argue that intellectual virtues are required for successful knowledge work.

Keywords: Technology, Device Paradigm, Focal Things, Focal Practice, Intellectual Virtue, Knowledge Work, Knowledge Society
Stream: Knowledge and Technology
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Sue Stafford

Professor, Department of Philosophy, Simmons College

Dr Sue P. Stafford specializes in epistemology, ethics and technology, and philosophy of mind. In addition to over 20 years of teaching experience, Dr Stafford has worked as a consultant for over 15 years in the areas of artificial intelligence, knowledge engineering, and knowledge management. Her clients have included major financial and manufacturing institutions as well as government agencies such as NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency. She is a private pilot and co-facilitator with Linda Castner of Women Take FlightTM and Leaders Take FlightTM workshops.

Ref: T05P0151