Thus the kinds of argument concerning the changes wrought by the introduction of technology mounted by organizational instrumentalist theories are frequently inadequate because they fail to clearly define the relationship between an organizational or institutional culture and the larger cultural matrix of which it is a part.
One version of this argument treats organizational culture as simply a subset of the larger cultural matrix. Despite the useful nature of their observations concerning the introduction of computers onto campus and their overall insistence upon viewing infotech as a social and cultural process as much as a technical one, Kiesler and Sproull adopt what is functionally a very narrow view of organizational culture in which the introduction of computers changes organizational role and this then alters social roles in unspecified ways (34).
The problem is that organizational culture does not simply mirror the larger social matrix in a way that would allow change in one area to automatically lead to change in another. In some organizations, in many universities for example, an artificially tolerant culture may prevail that is at odds with the larger culture of which it is a part; just as often, the influence of factors such as ethnicity and socioeconomic position may be effectively masked by organizational structures. The process of technological change is thus a complex one that requires a more sophisticated analysis of the interdependence of institutions and the culture of which they are a part.
Even critics who actively undertake this task can however fall prey to a third kind of instrumentalist outlook, which I term technical instrumentalism, the tendency to see a particular technology as a passive tool that obeys commands and responds to impulses generated elsewhere. Hawisher and Moran in discussing the relationship of status factors to communication, for example, note that "Subsequent studies are needed to look at how gender roles are carried in on-line communication, as they are in off-line communication. We hope that future studies in the rhetoric of electronic communication will reveal the ways in which status (including such factors as gender, age, race, handicap, and socioeconomic class) is communicated and responded to on-line" (635, my emphasis).
The problem here is that status and privilege as they are tied to questions of race, gender and class are seen as pre-existing conditions, a content that is "carried" by mediums of communication whether they be electronic or the more conventional "face-to-face" variety. There is no acknowledgment that infotech, together with the kind of classroom in which it might be used, in fact plays an interactive role in constructing social, economic and ethnic status.
Infotech does not merely carry markers of privilege, it helps to construct privilege.
I stress that the example I have chosen is a small part of an otherwise thoughtful and thought-provoking article. It is not however atypical of the language of the article where technology (in this case e-mail) is persistently invoked as readily separable from the attributes of self that constitute those who use the technology. The above demonstrates that the authors are aware of the importance of establishing a context beyond the classroom in which to discuss technology. A clean distinction between tool and user is not, however justified by the kinds of technology we are discussing. Even arguments that present a less optimistic view of the potential of information technology by and large maintain a rigid distinction between human and machine.
Closely related to this perspective is the existence of a degree of confusion over the type of tool that is being discussed. Thus technologies such as e-mail, the World Wide Web, or other forms of on-line interaction are often discussed as media in their own right. It is still, however, an open question whether information technologies are distinctive media, or merely sub-structures of existing media such as television and the computer. This confusion often leads to consideration of the relationship between technology and culture as a problem of content, of markers "carried" by a medium of communication, rather than a perspective that considers culture and technology as the recto and verso of a process of mutual implication.