The Relation Between Digital Technology and Values : Thinking Through Multiple Technologies

Abstract: This thesis addresses two topics: technology and values. More specifically, the studied technology is an ensemble of digital technologies that is often referred to as “digitalization,” and the values are gathered from empirical material from the Swedish (digital) government. The purpose of the thesis is to generate an enhanced understanding of the relation between digital technology and values. The study is motivated by, a) a need to theorize digital government research, b) a need to establish a link between narratives of technology and research on values, and c) a need to disclose how investments in digital technology are legitimized. The research question of this thesis is, “how can we understand the relation between digital technology and values?” To answer this question, theoretical concepts that are rooted in philosophy of technology are used: polytechnics and monotechnics, externalism, and internalism. Moreover, a theory of four value positions, namely professionalism, efficiency, service, and engagement is used. The thesis revolves around five papers, and its methodological approach is characterized by pragmatism. Data were gathered from relevant literature and document studies, an analysis of expert groups, and survey results from national and local government entities. The findings from the papers were subject to a narrative analysis. This analysis generated three conclusions, which constitute the theoretical contribution of the thesis. The relation between digital technology and values can be understood from these three key conclusions:The first regards convergence, and incorporates two narratives of digital technology: as a polytechnic tool, and as a monotechnic force: a machine. Digital technology is pluralistic in the sense that it may enable several values through multiple technological frames. In parallel, it relies on uniformity and standardization. The technology is therefore subject to several tensions. The story of the machine tends to become dominant through calls for action: it emphasizes the need for rapid adaptation of both individuals and society. In digital government, such adjustment would include an uncertain transformation of professionalism values. The legitimacy of this transformation is highly dependent on which story of technology it is based on.The second conclusion concerns technology as a paradigm. The digital paradigm, as studied in this thesis, is characterized by a story about a technological society for everyone. However, this story stems from a narrow range of actors with respect to educational and geographical context. A broadened view of digital technology and values would require a more symmetrical range of norms, since how values manifest themselves is dependent on the properties of the paradigm.The third and final conclusion regards congruence and divergence. The relation between digital technology and values is shifting between value congruence, and value divergence. When digital technology becomes associated with a narrative of progress that suggests that its value lies in the future while the present is ”transformative,” it can develop in a seemingly self-augmented and autonomous manner. Contrasting stories of value divergence can be found in evaluations from practice. However, this divergent narrative is repositioned as a story of “barriers”, which tells us that values can be realized if society adapts. The interplay between these narratives has implications for how we perceive value realization.The thesis concludes with the following summarizing contributions. Theoretically, it produces an enhanced understanding of the relation between digital technology and values, as described above. Through this theoretical understanding, a link between narratives of technology and values is established empirically. By doing so, this thesis has revealed how values are legitimized, manifested and perceived, depending on what technology ”is”. Finally, a societal need is fulfilled by suggestions for policy making. Democratization of the norms associated with digital technology would improve governance in the sense that policy makers would have to actively choose between incommensurable views. As a result of this, accountability would increase, together with transparency concerning the narratives that inform policy.