Four Philosophies of Technology, 1982

Four different “developmental stages/processes” in attitudes toward tech

  • Stages of maturation of industrial society’s views toward tech
  • Each stage is useful in the development process and has its limits
    • E.g., tech anarchy usefully led to the industrial revolution
  • Health social change is fostered by a balance between these attitudes

Technological maturity

  • Involves gradual transformation of our society into mature, post-industrial culture
  • Characterized by human-scaled, ecologically sound, appropriate technologies, consciously designed to fit our moral values.

I. Technological anarchy

  • Dominant during 19th century, industrial development
  • Tech is seen as good as instrument to pursue wealth, power, and taming of nature
    • If tech aims to tame nature, then tech and respect for nature would seem to be in tension.
  • Whatever can be done to pursue these ends should be done
  • Fewer government regulations of tech and market the better
  • Market alone determines which techs will prevail
  • Helped stimulate rapid tech development and tech diversity
  • After a while, tech becomes an increasingly powerful social force, becomes autonomous, becomes an goal in itself (instead of a means)
    • More tech for its own sake instead of to help us achieve other goals we have
  • Psychological characterization of this attitude toward tech: exuberance, youthful curiosity, self-centeredness, optimistic self-assertion and individual opportunism

II. Technophilia (love of tech)

  • Psychological characterization: like adolescent love, identifying with object of love
  • Humans become enamored with our mechanical cleverness, techniques, and tricks
  • Tech not just productive instruments, but toys
  • Tech becomes our life game: Pursuit of tech becomes main end of life
  • Tech starts to control us, as we can’t disassociate ourselves from our loved technologies
  • Loss of ability to see both positive and negative features of tech
  • Tech is applied to everything: education, government, trade, office work, health care, personal psychology (drugs), sex (Viagra), etc
    • Human biotec—engineering human life
  • Results in technocracy: Government by technicians, management of a society by technical experts
    • Where tech is a governing force
    • Rule by and for tech processes
    • Humans become technologized by own love of techniques
  • Unlikely society will ever get this far, for such extension of tech to everything will stir counter forces
  • People begin to realize that tech is becoming an autonomous force threatening human and nonhuman values
  • Even biosphere as whole becomes threatened by products/processes of tech activity
  • The technological fix reaction: A first typical reaction to these threats is to try to attempt to control technology and its hazards by more technology
  • Love affair with automobile as an example of technophilia:
    • So infatuated with our cars they become extension of our selves
    • Insults to them become personal affronts and treats to self esteem
    • Auto at first a means to an end-transportation-now end in themselves
    • Autos and their infrastructure become a dominant feature of culture as a whole
      • Cities, land use, econ well-being become entangled with technology of the automobile
      • Ends up frustrating many of original values for which auto meant to serve (e.g., freedom)
    • Finally tech of auto can become a threat to life, health, economy and environment, and even our way of life

III. Technophobia (fear of tech)

  • Sees that romantic entanglement with tech threatens human integrity and survival
  • Realization that only human and humane values can keep tech under human control
  • At its extreme, attempts to de-technologize human life
  • Desire to return to human autonomy (one of the original motives in pursuing technology)
  • Such autonomy achieved by revitalizing crafts and arts and use of simpler “neo-primitive” technologies
  • A reaction that tries to revive simple, “primitive” technologies that preserve certain cultural values
  • Do-it-yourself attitude is present
  • Aims at self-sufficiency
  • Distrust of complex technologies; aims to bring large scale tech to an end
  • Desire to bring tech under local human control
  • Tech doesn’t always make life easier and safer because those who design and implement it lack understanding of what these powerful tech can do
  • Psychological characterization:
    • Technophobia is like disenchantment of early adulthood
    • Learn that romantic and erotic identification can frustrate growth and generate suffering, grief, fear of loss
    • Suffers disappointment and pledges to avoid such relationships in future
    • A step toward more mature relationships with others
  • Technophobia as a stage of growth that involves becoming aware of the use of tech in a consciously reflective and critical way

IV. Appropriate technology (technological appropriateness)

  • Introduces moral and ecological values into design and application of ecologically sound technologies
  • Appropriate design: Right/artful fit between technique, tool, and human, and includes moral and environmental limits
    • Move away from overly centralized tech, to decentralized, human-scaled techs that preserve local community values
    • Values simple technologies
  • Reflect on ends/values before we commit ourselves to develop new tech or continue to use older ones
  • Tech mastery: Master our tech as instruments to ends & values about which we are clear and freely choose
  • Transcend tech as a force in human life that lies beyond our control
  • Tech need not be an alien power that overrides responsible human choice
  • Design requirements of appropriate tech:
    • Diversity in technologies to keep options open
    • We all shouldn’t be dependent on same tech
    • Ecologically sound: Promote benign & symbiotic interactions between humans, machines, and biosphere; necessary for sustainable economies; compatible with ecosystem principles
    • Thermodynamically sound in generation/use of energy
      • Unsound: If it took more energy to produce ethanol than was in the ethanol
    • Consider all the costs (measurable and non-measurable)
    • Promotes human development through their use:
      • Use of tech becomes part of life-enhancement
      • Labor becomes meaningful work
  • Tech designed to respect value of and to enhance individual person, eco integrity (communion with nature), and cultural health (creative community)
    • How can a tech enhance eco-integrity? Restoration tech?
  • Examples of appropriate tech developments:
    • Revolution in modern electronics
    • Miniaturization of technologies
    • Emerging solar techs
    • Improved organic agricultural technologies
    • Hybrid (gas/electric) cars

Examples of different approaches of technophilia and appropriate tech

  • One: Resolving interpersonal conflicts
    • Technophilia:
      • Try to control other through use of tech
      • Warfare; use modern techs that could destroy both sides; This tech power undermined
      • original rationale for war
    • Appropriate tech: Aikido
      • Japanese art of self defense, using locks and holds and principles of nonresistance to cause an opponent’s own momentum to work against him
      • No aggression/competition
      • Resolve conflict before progress to fighting
      • Instead of trying to manipulate and control others via tech, it resolves conflicts via self-mastery, self-correction and understanding
  • Two: Alpine hiking
    • Technophilia hiker: Loaded with every conceivable outdoor device of modern tech and using it all; weekend pack weighs 100 pounds, uses tech to have a “comfortable camp”; lots of nailing, chopping and building; loads gear up every morning after flipping pancakes on fancy griddle
      • Equipment isolates from nature
    • Appropriate tech hiker: travels light, though does not live off of wilderness (living off roots or berries); there to celebrate joy of being alive and know nature in intimate way; listens to softer voices in world and deeper voices in herself
      • Equipment is simple, light, durable, minimally polluting, harmless to produce and use;
      • Comfortable but not isolated from nature; rain not enemy;
      • Eats simple food, breakfast of homemade granola, minimal cooking, but nutritious and aesthetically satisfying
      • Equipment is a minimal intrusion which enhances enjoyment of natural world
  • Different approaches to nature of technophilia and appropriate tech
    • Technophilia:
      • Tech used as a means to control nature and other humans
      • Sees nature as having only instrumental value
      • Impose our values on the world
      • Manipulate and control the other
      • E.g., industrial agriculture? (Poison bad bugs)
    • Appropriate tech: Applies tech to nature in way that respects its intrinsic values
      • Work with nature, instead of imposing powerful tech on nature trying to master and overwhelm it
      • To achieve goals in use of nature, blends tech and eco processes
      • E.g., organic agriculture (leave hedge rows so beneficial insects can control troublesome bugs)
      • Sees values in the world; Wonder, delight, compassion
      • Wants to understand world and appreciate it, so humans can interact with it to realize maximum reciprocal benefits
        • How is our tech to benefit nature?
      • E.g., techs that allow us greater appreciation of nature
  • Three: Generation and use of energy
    • Technocratic approach: Nuclear power
      • Highly capitalized, subsidized and centralized tech, difficult security problems, thermo pollution to rivers
      • Environmentally, economically, thermodynamically unsound
    • Appropriate tech: diversify and decentralize use and production of energy
      • Don’t’ use vast power grid
      • Variety of small scale photovoltaic, hydroelectric and solar tech
      • Co-generation and conservation within communities
      • Local communities more control over future; more public participation, instead of large scale bureaucracies
      • Take advantages of natural sources of energy locally available

Miscellaneous

  • Humans are born as nature and through technology and other cultural activities they modify themselves
  • Nature of philosophy (three levels of maturation)
    • Initial stage: A non-explicit (implicit) framework that structures one’s experiences
      • A way of life formed by conditioned emotional responses/ attitudes and unquestioned judgments/assumptions that structure how one sees the world
        • Culturally four philosophies of tech at this level
        • Consumerism as a lifestyle
      • When invest our identities in beliefs we resist reflecting on them and resist changing them as can threaten self-identity and sense of reality
    • Intermediate stage: Explicit elaboration that spells out these assumptions and argues for conclusions
    • Mature stage: Conceptual inquiry that frees us from attachments to doctrines/belief systems so we can develop more appropriate ways of thinking and behaving
      • Creative like jazz?
      • Playfully adopting a variety of perspectives to free us for creative thought