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The Problem of Technology -- Part I: The Device Paradigm

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Drunkenblade of Kay

The Problem of Technology -- Part I: The Device Paradigm

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So I'm in a philosophy class called "Happiness and Technology." It is kicking my ass and I love it. I am struggling with the material and every inch of progress is the result of laborious endeavor and seemingly endless toil. The difficulty of the subject matter is compounded by the staunch conservatism of the professor and often I find myself reeling from a "series of cogent syllogisms." So, I come here seeking the insight and perpicuity I have never found to be wanting in this community.The general premise of the primary referece (Technology and the Character of Comtemporary Life by Albert Borgmann) is a denunciation of the three existing theories of technology, namely the substantive, instrumentalist, and pluralist views of technology, and a presentation of a paradigmatic theory which he goes to great lengths to explicate.The substantive view of technology promotes technology as a force in its own right which shapes and influences society and human behavior. The instrumentalist view holds that technology and technological devices are value neutral "instruments" which inherent their nature according to the means and end to which they are employed. The pluralist view sees technology as a diverse and complex structure of conflicting forces which resist classification.Borgmann rejects these views and attempts to lay the foundation for his alternative--the device paradigm view of technology. This theory essentially is the illumination of a fundamental pattern (paradigm) which characterizes technology. In his analysis, he proposes that the essence of (modern) technology demonstrates a comprehensive pattern of the relationship between commodities and mechanisms(devices). In other words technology has become characterized by the abstraction of commodities from their means of procurement and has created a controlling pattern in our lives. Since technology is how human beings take up with the world and their environment, human society is in danger becoming disengaged with reality as the abstraction between device and commodity grows more and more disparate.Borgmann writes, "On the basis of this power [the transformative power of technology], a promise of liberation, enrichment, and conquering the scourges of humanity is issued. The promise leads to the irony of technology when liberation by way of disburdenment yields to disengagement, enrichment by way of diversion gives place to distraction, and conquest makes way first to domination and then to loneliness."My contention with this theory is Borgmanns psychological epistemology. He argues that social science has repeatedly failed to discover any comprehensive and consistent principle governing social behavior and is thus inadequate as a basis of explaning technology. Essentially, the scientific method is unable to provide the necessary insight for the subsumption of human behavior and the technological devices human beings create to take up with the world, into the framework of scientific laws.Thomas Hobbes however developed a theory of human behavior which states that humans will always seek to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain. Some of you might vaguely recognize this from discussions on "the other board." We called it self-interest and were quite fond of pointing out how every rational action could be viewed as "selfish." For example, Mother Teresa lived a life of austerity helping the impoverished in Calcutta. Was she acting selfishly? Yes. While I will not presume to know her motivation and have no intention of nominalizing her work, it is undeniable that she was motivated to do what she did. By acting in such a way as to SATISFY her personal motivation, she is selfish. Altruism is merely an illusion. But here's where my teacher threw a wrench in my logic. A person cannot rationally act counter to their motivation because motivation is defined to be the constraining desires which determine behavior. Therefore Hobbes' idea of human nature is tautological. It is entirely unfalsifiable and as such is of no relavence to the issue in question.I'd like to say "Damn you, damn you and your sophistry!" but I must concede that there is some merit in his rebuttal although I have this almost ubiquitous sense of its fallacy. What do you all think? Am I fucking nuts? Not again!? The ghost of Beldanar has come back to haunt me!! Edited by: Drunkenblade of Kay at: 12/2/02 2:43:24 pm
AvatarofPower

Re: The Problem of Technology

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This argument seems to take "technology" as something seperate from humanity... it really isn't."Technology" is just the physical manifestation of the co-evolution of our mind in relation to our body."Technology" is an integral part of the human consciousness... it's as much a part of us as our hands and feet. I can kill someone with my hands, but I can also hug them (cliche but true.). Same with technology... Avatar "Once the stone you're crawling under is lifted off your shoulders; Once the cloud thats raining over your head disappears The noise that you'll hear is the crashing down of Hollow Years..."-- Dream Theater
Drunkenblade of Kay

Re: The Problem of Technology

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I am really glad you responded AvatarofPower (sorry, still bad with the names). I was starting to think no one actually read these forums. "Technology" is just the physical manifestation of the co-evolution of our mind in relation to our body.Whoa. You cut right to the heart of the matter there, and without even breaking stride. I might try to slip that into a presentation I am giving later this week if you don't mind.I feel the same way you do. Technology cannot be isolated from human nature. But what if...what if this physcial manifestation (technology) has become so pervasive in society that it shapes the way in which human beings relate to other humans and to their environment. You see, I am very reluctant to stray from the empirical traditions of science and elevate technology as a independent and socially forming force, but I'm not convinced (entirely) that the state of *modern* technology is best described in this way.Please don't get me wrong. I'm not disagreeing with you or even with Borgmann necessarily. I'm just trying to work this through, so to speak. That's why I came here...for the wealth of intelligence and capability represented in our members. When I try to think about these things on my own, I usually end up trapped in logical circles of my own making.So, what if this evolution of physical manifestation, commensurate with that of our minds (or maybe knowledge?) has progressed in a way that is not *representative* of human nature? What if technology is merely a magnifying glass, of sorts, which manifests only certain aspects of human nature while by comparison rendering other aspects invisible?Is this true, or is the author blowing apocalyptically motivated smoke? Fuck me, I don't know. To answer that question, we must first examine the nature of modern technology as a human endeavor. How would you define the nature of technology in our society? Borgmann argues that technology is characterized by the procurement of some commodity by increasingly effictive and reliable means. Essentially, technology is the aspect of humanity which seeks to produce and consume commodities in safer, faster, easier, and cheaper ways--the disengagement of ends from means. This is what Borgmann defines as the Device Paradigm and he argues that it is becoming the constraining pattern of western society. He argues that we have become so disengaged from the means of production that we no longer value anything but the consumption of commodities and consume for no greater purpose than to consume. He argues that the way in which human beings relate to one another is becoming increasingly characterized by the device paradigm...that is human beings view other humans as commodities to be consumed and unwittingly reduce them to mere means to their end.So I've tried not to be overly prolix or boring, and I really hope this topic interests those who read these boards as much as it does me. Feel free to rant or rail on me, to agree, or even to be wrong. I'd much rather be cursed out than ignored. I can endure endless acrimony, but insignificance would drive me back to THE OTHER BOARD, and that would be a very bad thing.Let me know what you think.- Tim
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ZachSylvanus
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Re: The Problem of Technology

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Technology is man's way of making up for his shortfalls. It is a tool, developed to accomplish a goal. The far-flung nature of the goal, or its seemingly innocuous inception, has no bearing. Every development that could be construed as a "magnifying lens" into a human psyche can also merely be viewed as a realization of an evolutionary shortcoming in our physical body, and implemented by our chemical mind, creating an external extension of ourselves, to accomplish a goal.Even in the aspects of war, where technology is turned to slaying our fellow man, we can see an evolutionary backing behind it, a sort of territoriality, an "us or them", or a war over resources to maintain our top-dog status of reproductive success.
Drunkenblade of Kay

Re: The Problem of Technology

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So, basically you concur with the instrumentalist view of technology. Your analysis is certainly correct, but being correct is not always enough. To be correct is to illuminate an aspect, but not to necessarily reveal the truth of the matter. So yes, a technical device can be reduced to its instrumental relationship with mankind, but does that mean it is the best and most appropriate perspective to hold? Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher, argues that the insturmentalist view of technology is the *most dangerous* view to have since it regards the realm of the technological as innocuous and makes no effort to investigate into the nature of technology itself. Additionally, the nature of technology is nothing technological. He writes, "Technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology. When we are seeking the essence of 'tree,' we have to become aware that what pervades every tree, as tree, is not itself a tree that can be encountered among all the other trees....Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely represent and pursue the technological, put up with it, or evade it."My point is, you cannot dismiss the far-flung nature of the goal [of technology], its seemingly innocuous inception, or its characterizing paradigm merely because they are not essential to one aspect of correctness.To repose the question in the vein of your example, does the existence of an extensive arsenal of nuclear weapons affect human relations in a way more significant than can be explained by the mere view of technology as a tool? Certainly, WoMD can be viewed as the means to an end, as an instrument or tool in a struggle for resources, but some would argue that their very existence changes how humans relate to reality. Do not underestimate the importance of this alleged effect. This is reflected in the warlike nature of our culture and our language. "The Cardinals were killed/destroyed/murdered/dominated by the Royals." "The audience was held captive." "That plan backfired/blew-up"Does it make sense why it might be important to view technology as more than just a tool, or means of supplementing shortfalls? It highlights certain aspects of human nature by making them a pervading influence in society and consequentially sculps how humans relate to one another. For example, if you foster an environment of war, is it any surprise if your children turn out to be warlike? Now this is certainly not to say that technology breeds warfare, but rather to emphasize the importance of examining the nature of technology since it is such an influential compontent of our lives in order to ensure that it does not exist as a detrimental force.One last thing, and this might fuel this discussion a bit. The whole point of this argument is really an elaborate and indirect defense of the inherent worth of a human being. Essentially, the author is arguing that modern technology is diminishing the value of the human individual and human activities by relegating them to mere consumers of commodities. You argue that technology is extending what it means to be human by allowing humanity to direct his own evolution. I think this is the true focal point of disagreement. So without forgetting the points above, what does it mean to be human and does this state confer any inherent worth or value. Hm, this is suddendly sounding like an abortion debate, isn't it?(Big surprise that both Borgmann and Heidegger are *gasp* Christians.)
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ZachSylvanus
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Re: The Problem of Technology

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But Tim, War is mankind's method of perpetuating a genetic strain.When we were small populations of hunter-gatherers, we were xenophobic, fearful of other tribes. We had skirmishes. It was Our territory, not Theirs, and these were Our animals, and Our plants. Today, with a larger population, and more improved technology, mankind turns our greatest achievements to propagating the presence of Us by subjugating Them. WoMD, while some would say have some deep philosophical meaning to them, are simply a very effective, large scale device meant to remove the other clan/nation/race/religion from existence, and maintain the superiourity of Us.
Drunkenblade of Kay

Re: The Problem of Technology

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Well Zach, the argument that war is mankind's method of perpetuating a genetic strain seems a little tenuous. Not because I don't agree that it does have that effect, but because its a poor way of looking at things. Depending on your philosophic sympathies, you might agree that human nature is characterized by self interest. We are psyiologically/biologically disposed to pursue that which we percieve to be most profitable. War, class interest, racism, the notion of inherent rights, etc. are just the logical extentions of this principle. So, yes, war is mankind's method of collectively perpetuating a genetic strain in the same sense that promoting one's self interest is a method of perpetuating a genetic strain on the individual level.But this doesn't address the heart of the matter (unless you happen to be an egoist.) There is an important distinction between what reality is, and what reality ought to be. By stating that it is human nature to propagate one's own genetic material by war or otherwise, we only address the reality of what *is* while ignoring what *ought* to be.For the sake of argument, let us assume that modern technology predisposes societies to war. Does the fact that technology can be seen as an extention of human capacity justify the state in which it exists? I'm not contesting the relevence of genetic evolution, or meta-genetic evolution to technology, but rather probing the issues of the *direction* this evolution has taken mankind, where it is going, and where we want to be.
AvatarofPower

Re: The Problem of Technology

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But what if...what if this physcial manifestation (technology) has become so pervasive in society that it shapes the way in which human beings relate to other humans and to their environment. You see, I am very reluctant to stray from the empirical traditions of science and elevate technology as a independent and socially forming force, but I'm not convinced (entirely) that the state of *modern* technology is best described in this way.Oh, technology is certainly a socially forming force. But its not independant. Its just an extension of our bodies. I still think that Borgmann is looking at technology as something its not. He bases many of his statements (that you've shown me) on the fact that the evolution of technology can be seperated from the evolution of humanity. Which I don't think it can. Avatar "Once the stone you're crawling under is lifted off your shoulders; Once the cloud thats raining over your head disappears The noise that you'll hear is the crashing down of Hollow Years..."-- Dream Theater
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Re: The Problem of Technology

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I think that signatures are now allowing HTML if you aren't an EZ Supporter. This is a recent change as of a few days ago when EZBoard 7.0 was intoduced.Chris "I cannot help but notice that there is no problem between us that cannot be solved by your departure."
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