Every major technical changes reverberates at countless levels: E-Learning in the 21st Century: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 43 2: Douglas Kellner — unknown. If we continue to see the social and technical domains as being seperate, then we are essentially denying an integral part of our existence, and our place in a democratic society. We see that the rise and advance of information technology accounts for technologies ultimately crucial social and political position. It made me want to learn more about the issue, which is also good. Questioning Technology Every major technical changes reverberates at countless levels: Thomas Wendt rated it really liked it Jul 20, Iain Thomson — — Inquiry: Darren Blanch rated it liked it Mar 16, His historical overview of approaches to questining still works better than any other I have come across.
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Andrew Feenberg Questioning Technology Andrew Feenberg Preface For two centuries now, great democratic movements have swept the globe, equalizing classes, races, genders, peoples. As these movements expand the definition of humanity, they also extend the boundaries of the political to embrace more and more of social life. At first law was taken from God and king and brought under human control.
Then Marx and the labor movement placed the economy on the political agenda. In this century, political management of the economy has become routine, and education and medicine have been added to the list of contestable issues. As a new century begins, democracy appears poised for a further advance. With the environmental movement in the lead, technology is now about to enter the expanding democratic circle.
This marks a fateful change in our understanding of technology, in its position on the conceptual maps of theory and critique. Formerly, the democratic movement gave its fullest confidence to the natural processes of technological development, and it was only conservative cultural critics who lamented the price of progress.
The Ruskins, the Heideggers deplored the dehumanizing advance of the machine while democrats and socialists cheered on the engineers, heroic conquerors of nature. However, all agreed that technology was an autonomous force separate from society, a kind of second nature impinging on social life from the alien realm of reason in which science too finds its source. But this conception of technology is incompatible with the extension of democracy to the technical sphere. Technology is the medium of daily life in modern societies.
Every major technical change reverberates at many levels, economic, political, religious, cultural. Insofar as we continue to see the technical and the social as separate domains, important aspects of these dimension of our existence will remain beyond our reach as a democratic society. The fate of democracy is therefore bound up with our understanding of technology. The purpose of this book is to think that vital connection. The same kind of ignorance that bound men to the gold standard for centuries maintains the illusion that technology is an alien force intruding on our social life from a coldly rational beyond.
The forces of the market were believed to transcend the will of peoples and nations. The economy was treated as a quasi-natural system with laws as rigid as the movements of the planets.
The social nature of exchange had to be discovered against tremendous ideological resistance. Today it seems absurd that modern societies renounced control of their own economic life to a second nature they had themselves created. Yet where technology is concerned we remain in willful submission to a second nature just as contingent on human action as the economy.
Liberation from technological fetishism will follow the course of liberation from economic fetishism. The same story will someday be told about machines that we tell today about markets. The time has therefore come for an anti-essentialist philosophy of technology. We have had enough of generalizations about technological imperatives, instrumental rationality, efficiency, enframing, and similar abstract categories.
I offer here a concrete alternative to the approach of such influential representatives of essentialism as Ellul, Borgmann, Heidegger, and, for reasons I will explain in chapter one, Habermas as well.
Essentialism holds that technology reduces everything to functions and raw materials. Goal oriented technological practices replace practices which embody a human meaning.
Efficiency sweeps away all other norms and determines an autonomous process of technological development. From this standpoint any attempt to infuse the technical with meaning appears as external interference in a rational field with its own logic and laws. Yet rational though it may be, technology engulfs its creators, threatening both spiritual and material survival. The methodological dualism of technique and meaning has political implications. On the one side, technology undermines traditional meanings or communicative action, while on the other side we are called to protect the integrity of a meaningful world.
Because the essence of technology is unaffected by changes in particular technologies, technological reform is irrelevant to the philosophical issues, desirable though it may be on practical grounds. Universal technologization must be resisted by drawing boundaries around the technical sphere. But do these oppositions make sense at the end of the 20th century? This approach leaves me skeptical, not because it affirms the existence of social pathologies linked to technology, but because it forecloses in principle any serious action to address them.
But huge changes are occurring in fields such as medicine and computers under the influence of political protest and public involvement in design. The environmental movement has been deeply and quite concretely involved in the question of technology for the last twenty years. The technological world we will inhabit in the years to come will be a product of public activity to a great extent. How can one know in advance that all this debate and contestation will have no effect, positive or negative, on the fundamental problems identified by the critics of technology today?
I would argue that their approach is a function of our professional culture as humanist scholars and our relationship to the cultures of the technical disciplines, and has nothing to do with the realities of our time. This cultural relationship is peculiarly ambiguous. Technical disciplines are constituted around devices conceived as essentially functional, and therefore as essentially oriented toward efficiency. In the pursuit of efficiency, technical disciplines systematically abstract from social aspects of their own activities.
Presumably, those aspects are the concern of humanistic disciplines. Essentialism accepts this division of labor. Like the technical disciplines, it views technologies as devices oriented toward efficiency.
The only difference is that essentialism deplores the social consequences of technology the technical disciplines ignore. This, I think, points to the basic weakness of essentialism.
It has produced a powerful critique of the obsession with efficiency that is indeed prevalent in our society and reflected in the design of many devices and systems, but it has not shown that that attitude reveals the essence of real technology as it has existed historically, as it exists today, and as it may exist in the future. If essentialism is unaware of its own limitations, this is because it confounds attitude with object, the modern obsession with efficiency with technology as such.
No doubt real dangers do lurk in modern technology. And I can agree that it must have some general features that allow us to distinguish it and on the basis of which we can sometimes decide on its appropriate and inappropriate range of application.
Although I see the logic of drawing boundaries narrowly in such cases, I cannot agree that this is the whole story. The "essence" of actual technology, as we encounter it in all its complexity, is not simply an orientation toward efficiency. Its many roles in our lives cannot be captured so simply. This is the burden of constructivist sociology of technology, which affirms the social and historical specificity of technological systems, the relativity of technical design and use to the culture and strategies of a variety of technical actors.
Constructivism, in short, has introduced difference into the question of technology. Yet constructivism so disaggregates the question of technology that it is sometimes difficult to see its relevance to the legitimate concerns of essentialism. I believe there is a single fundamental distinction among technical actors that enables us to link social to philosophical issues.
This is the distinction between the dominant and the subordinate subject positions with respect to technological systems. There are, as essentialists argue, technological masters who relate through rational planning to a world reduced to raw materials. But ordinary people do not resemble the efficiency oriented system planners who pepper the pages of technology critique.
Rather, they encounter technology as a dimension of their lifeworld. For the most part they merely carry out the plans of others or inhabit technologically constructed spaces and environments. As subordinate actors, they strive to appropriate the technologies with which they are involved and adapt them to the meanings that illuminate their lives.
Their relation to technology is thus far more complex than that of dominant actors which they too may be on occasion. This may be why so many philosophers have overlooked the significance of the distinction between these two types of actors. To illustrate my thesis, I therefore propose to consider a more complex but also more typical example of a technical object, the house. The house, you may ask? The house is not a device but an extremely rich and meaningful life environment.
Yet it has gradually become an elaborate concatenation of devices. Forget the old manse. A house today is the center of electrical, communications, heating, plumbing, and of course mechanized building technologies.
To its builder, it is essentially these things. The fact that we who occupy the house romanticize it, hide many of its devices or shroud them in traditional facades, and dwell inside it rather than handling it like a tool obscures its basically technical character.
It has in fact become the "machine for living" foreseen by Le Corbusier in the s already. But the house also undeniably belongs to our lifeworld and is not merely an efficient device for achieving goals.
Of course it does achieve goals, for example sheltering us from the weather, but it obviously does far more than this and belongs to the realm of meaning as much as anything we can name. We have "domesticated" the technicized house and made it ours in all sorts of ways that have little or nothing to do with efficiency. The essence of technology, whatever that is, ought to encompass this complexity in principle. It ought to have categories under which we can recognize aspects of the house that are not reducible to a means-ends relationship.
Essentialists reply that this example falls apart analytically into the two halves of their dualistic view. The house considered as a concatenation of devices is at least conceptually different from the house as a human environment.
The one belongs to the realm of technology, the other to the lifeworld of meaning. Thus there is an analytic distinction between the operation of the electric circuit as a technology and the experienced warmth and light of the space we inhabit, made possible by electricity no doubt but taking on a meaning in terms of traditional archetypes such as the hearth.
This distinction has a certain validity. Without it there would be no technical disciplines. But what starts out as an analytic distinction ends up as an ontological difference, as though technology could really be separated from society as two types of things--or in more sophisticated formulations, two "practices"--interacting on their boundaries. Essentialist dualism cuts across the lifeworld of technology, in which both these dimensions are immediately present, and disconnects the technical as such from the experience of it.
But from an experiential standpoint these two dimensions-- device and meaning, technical and lifeworld practice--are inextricably intertwined: the user is perfectly aware of the electrical source of the warmth that signifies security and welcome as he or she returns home in the evening. Both aspects of the experience qualify each other. Thus if one bases philosophy of technology on the self-understanding of the dominant technological actors, one might conclude that meaning is extrinsic to the technical as such.
Yet this would be a mistake. Even if meaning plays no role in technical disciplines at any given point in time, it is relevant to the history of technology. Lifeworld meanings experienced by subordinate actors are eventually embodied in technological designs; at any given stage in its development, a device will express a range of these meanings gathered not from "technical rationality" but from past practices of its users.
Critical Theory of Technology