Thinking Technology

No social, human, or spiritual fact is so important as the fact of technique in the modern world. And yet no subject is so little understood.
— Jacques Ellul

This quote introduces a book from 1964, since then the world changed, but the technology (or technique) remains little understood.

We live technology daily, since we are human, but we understand technology? With this post I want to answer the questions:

  • Who thought about technology?
  • What are their main contributions to those who work with technology?

Who thought about technology?

It is impossible to have an exhaustive answer to this question. But I have read few authors that thought a little about it, and I want to share this information.

This is the list of all authors that I have already read a part of the book. Feel free to share a book!

When reading a book, the most important idea about the authors is his worldview. Worldview is a protestant word that creates a set of all believes of a person. A worldview can say more than you imagine about a person.

The word “religion” is used nowadays in a very loose sense. Some people under the influence of extreme Protestantism employ the word to denote any serious convictions as to morals or the nature of the universe.
— Bertrand Russell [1]

Lewis Mumford

Mumford wants to know how and why Western Europeans carried the physical sciences to the point where the whole mode of life had been adapted to the pace and capacities of the machine so that, in effect, the society had surrendered to the machine.

For more information, I’m doing a short summary of his book Techniques and Civilization:

  1. Cultural Preparation
  2. Agents of Mechanization
  3. The Eotechnic Phase
  4. The Paleotechnic Phase
  5. The Neotechnic Phase
  6. Compensations and Reversions
  7. Assimilation of the Machine
  8. Orientation

Jacques Ellul

Ellul extends the Mumford’s idea. He didn’t talk about machine, but technique. Ellul is a catholic anarchist, his most important concern is about human freedom.

In his book, The Technological Society, he analyzes the technique’s impact on human life with the focus on the individual’s freedom from political or economic power.

Mumford talks about machine, Ellul about technique. Technique is used everywhere: education, economy, state, etc… Everywhere!

The Betrayal by Technology A Portrait of Jacques Ellul

Stephen V. Monsma

Monsma and others authors created a guide for a responsible technology from a protestant worldview. Christianity has an intrinsic utopia that at the the history ends in a kingdom of eternal peace between men and nature. The protestant worldview believes that this kingdom is here, a material and spiritual kingdom, not a only spiritual kingdom (catholic and evangelicals), or a only material kingdom (marxist).

On the one hand, there is the picture of a technology in keeping with the biblical vision of God’s kingdom, a kingdom of shalom. According to this vision, technology is a liberating force that helps people live in a responsible, harmonious relationship with God, each other, and nature. Shalom is a state of harmony and order that leads to a society at peace. It is not a peace born of quietude and rest, but a peace of dynamism. In this vision society is alive, moving, and pulsating, but also at peace because its vibrancy and dynamism exist in a context of right relationships. It is a peace born of active harmony, not a peace of stagnation.

So, in this worldview, we SHOULD build the technology according to this kingdom.

Egbert Schuurman

Schuurman review the last 500 years of history looking for how philosophy build our believes in technology. He believes that technology is our main faith today. We expect that technology will solve all our problems.

Technology made great things for us, but not all technology. For Schuurman, our unconditional faith in technology leaves us unprotected from its malefic effects. We should not trust in new technologies! First we should study it better, than use it in small scale. Try to find another solution.

Schuurman also describes the man’s passion for control. Technology leads us to control everything. We start trying to control the nature, now the man.

Yuval Harari

Harari starts thinking from today. How technology will lead us to a new specie. Will our society, in few years, be a Homo Sapiens based society? Or will us create a new kind of human with genetic manipulation?

In his first book, Harari review the human history from on an evolutive perspective. He starts his first book reviewing how we kill others human species.

If we create a new kind of human, this new specie will treat us like we treat the others humans that already exist?

Conclusions

Technology is great! We love how the world has changed in the last two centuries! But…

We should be aware that technology can be used to control our society, to destroy our nature, to create something new and evil.

We must be cautious in this old Brave New World.

Now, we are creating things that can be too dangerous.

Killing autonomous drones

Killing drones can create an army impossible to detect and invincible.

Facing detection

The old ideas like physiognomy are back. Now, the want to detect if a person is violent, or his sexual preferences only by pictures.