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iPad Potential To Aid The Disabled, and What It Might Mean For The Human Condition In General.

Posted by jhamm | Posted in Consumer Electronics | Posted on 03-12-2010

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Few mainstream technological devices turn out to be practical tools that can aid the disabled, but for Owen Cain, a seven-year-old boy who has suffered from spinal muscular atrophy since infancy, the iPad has proven to be an efficient tool enabling him to communicate what was previously impossible for him. As an article in the New York Times recounts it, Owen made his first contact with the iPad when a nurse propped one in front of him and he touched the screen, activating the application Gravitarium. Since that moment Owen’s family has invested in an iPad along with additional software, providing him with new tools for learning and communication.

“He has been experimenting with a variety of applications,” the article says, such as Proloquo2Go, which allows Owen to say things by prompting the iPad to utter various statements or queries, and also Math Magic, which enables him to work out solutions to basic quantitative problems. It is by virtue of how the iPad is operated that Owen can engage in activities such as these in a much more dynamic way; the fact that it is operated by touch provides him with a particular way of interacting with the world, which fundamentally expands his general capacity for being.

Therein lies, what I argue, the philosophical implications that technology at large can have, and that it seems the iPad may very well be advancing in situations like Owen’s. The philosopher Heidegger in his work called Being and Time attempts to exposit the fundamental concept of Being and argues that insight into Being (and in particular, that of human being) is to be found in the comportment that one has with objects in the world. While this is by no means an adequate description of his philosophy, it suffices to note the underlying idea that this philosopher and others have hit upon in emphasizing the way in which humans behave with regard to the world, and its role in quite literally defining ‘human being’.

Granted, Heidegger did not have technology like the iPad in mind per se, but his idea that the way in which we comport to the world defines ‘human being’ seems to have much to say regarding instances like Owen’s, where the iPad has played a defining role in augmenting his capacity for being in the world. If indeed technology has the capacity to open new avenues of engaging (and hence, being in) the world for those that are disabled, in what ways can technology augment or even redefine what it means to be human in general? The possibilities seem endless, but instances where mainstream technologies play such vital and defining roles in the lives of disabled individuals are inspiring reinforcements of the real capacity for technology to alter the human condition.

While Owen’s case is certainly not the first instance of general-use technology aiding the disabled, it is just one more testament to the potential that technology in general has in augmenting the human capacity for being in the world, and the potential spans all humanity, not only to those who suffer from debilitating afflictions. Moreover, cases like Owen’s speak volumes of the potential for devices like the iPad to become staple devices in human livelihood.

Click here to see the New York Times articles about Owen Cain and his iPad.

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