Technology, broadly, refers to the means and processes by which problems are solved, challenges overcome, and capacities expanded. So there are technologies evolved through the mechanism of natural selection, like opposable thumbs, bipedalism, kinship, and language, and technologies that evolve through the means of invention and diffusion, like the extraction of metal, the number zero, the compass, the Pythagorean theorem, Bernoulli’s law, etc. While technologies may be applied in myriad ways depending on the needs and predispositions of the collectives making use of them, they have a shared practical meaning which guarantees their utility in solving a particular problem, overcoming a challenge, or expanding a capacity to do things. This is why the Arabic numeral system can be considered a technological advance over Roman numerals; they are both ways of counting, but Arabic numerals allowed for both the expansion of the number set and complex operations in ways Roman numerals did not. Arabic numerals opened up an imaginative universe for human beings that was not previously there. Subjects were able to transcend their current ways of objectifying phenomena and then seed that transcendence back into the lifeworld, rendering it a new base from which future subjects would begin. This is why the development of human technology is cumulative, not simply an endless, “flat” set of variations. That said, cumulative advancement also carries with it losses — all sorts of means and processes are lost as people begin doing things in new ways. There is no essential value judgment around any particular technology or technological gestalt — the main questions are, what problems are being solved, how, and are there ways to solve them that are better or worse based on a particular outcome or set of outcomes that is being sought? The society whose mathematicians first began using Arabic numerals wasn’t “better” than any other — they just devised a leveraged way of formally representing quantities (which they may or may not have even understood to be particularly leveraged at the time). Over time, its effects became materially apparent in the expanded capacities for building, warmaking, accounting, and theorizing experienced by the collectives who adopted the technology.

This is eluding me still—is “leveraged practices” synonymous with “technology,” broadly speaking?

Nick Seaver

1