Three Ways Of Being-with Technology by Carl Mitcham Introduction: Mitcham talks about the relations between technology and humanity. He starts with the chicken-and-egg question “Which is primary-humanity or knowledge? ” What exactly is happening? Is it that we influence the technology or is it so happening that the technology is shaping our morals and us? At this point he quotes one of the Winston Churchill quotations that “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us “.
Then he tries to answer this question by saying it is a mutual relationship in between these two but even the mutual relationship take different forms. He then proposes a three ways of being with the technology and takes the whole document on structural analysis of the three forms. Ancient Skepticism: The articulation of a relationship between humanity and technics in the earliest forms when stated boldly is “technology (that is, the study of technics) is necessary but dangerous”.
Technics, according to these myths, although to some extent required by humanity and thus on occasion a cause for legitimate celebration, easily turns against the human by severing it from some larger reality – a severing that can be manifest in a failure of faith or shift of the will, a refusal to rely on or trust God or the gods, whether manifested in nature or in Providence. Ethical arguments in support of this distrust or uneasiness about technical activities can be detected in the earliest strata of Western philosophy.
Socrates considered farming, the least technical of the arts, to be the most philosophical of occupations. This idea of agriculture as the most virtuous of the arts, one in which human technical action tends to be kept within proper limits, is repeated by representatives of the philosophical tradition as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Jefferson. Socrates argues that because of the supreme importance of the ethical and political issues, human beings should not allow themselves to become preoccupied with scientific and technological pursuits.
Socrates argues that human beings should determine for themselves how to perform their actions and therefore should not depend on god for help in “counting, measuring or weighing” whose consequences are nonetheless hidden. In the Intellectual Auto Biography of Socrates, he explained how he turned away from natural science because of the cosmological and moral confusion it tends to engender. Never did he speculate on the ‘cosmos ‘of the sophists or the necessities of the heavens but declared those who worried about such matters were foolish.
The classical greek culture was shot through with a distrust of the wealth and the affluence that the technai or arts could produce if not kept within strict limits. Socrates explains what is important is moderation. He explains that under the condition of affluence human beings tend to become accustomed to ease and thus to chose less over the more perfect. He explains “Once drugs are available as palliatives, for instance, most individuals will choose them for the alleviation of pain over the more strenuous paths of physical hygiene or psychological enlightenment. Which is very true in the modern con text than to that current in athens that scarcely need to be mentioned. Another aspect of this tension between politics and technology is on the dangers of technical change. In the words of Adeimantus, with whom Socrates in this instance evidently agrees, once change has established itself as normal in the arts, “it overflows its bounds into human character and activity and from there issues forth to attack commercial affairs, and then proceeds against the laws and political orders”.
Technological change, which undermines the authority of custom and habit, thus tends to introduce violence into the state. This should be taken more serious with the experience in the 20th century. Eros or love, by contrast, is oriented toward the higher or the stronger; it seeks out the good and strives for transcendence. “And the person who is versed in such matters is said to have spiritual wisdom, as opposed to the wisdom of one with technai or low-grade handicraft skills” It’s the person with the spiritual wisdom that the love is oriented to.
The ancient critique of technology thus rests on a tightly woven, fourfold argument: (1) the will to technology or the technological intention often involves a turning away from faith or trust in nature or Providence; (2) technical affluence and the concomitant processes of change tend to undermine individual striving for excellence and societal stability; (3) technological knowledge likewise draws human beings into intercourse with the world and obscures transcendence; (4) technical objects are less real than objects of nature.
This pre-modern attitude looks on technics as dangerous or guilty until proven innocent or necessary – and in any case, the burden of proof lie’s with those who favor technology not those who would restraint it, because this way of being with technology views it with skepticism. Enlightenment Optimism: This is a radically different way of being with technology; it shifts the burden of proof from those who favor to those who oppose the introduction of inventions in the name of enlightenment.
Aspects of this idea or attitude are not without pre-modern adumbration. This idea is first fully articulated in the writings of Francis Bacon at the time of renaissance. Unlike Socrates Bacon maintains that God has given humanity a clear mandate for the change i. e. the technical change. Technical consequences are all cut loose with an optimistic hope and the consequences of such actions are treated as mere accidents. We all deemed to form in the image of god are all expected to create and the art plays the primary role in this.
Formed in the image and likeness of God, human beings are called on to be creators; to abjure that vocation and pursue instead an unproductive discourse on ethical dilemmas. Bacon indeed claims that not applying new remedies must expect new evils. The kingdom of man founded by sciences is none other than the kingdom of heavens. It is important to understand that Bacon and Socrates relates to each other in pro- and anti- technology partisans. Technical action is circumscribed by uncertainty or risk.
Bason doesn’t evaluate technical projects on their individual merits, but simply asserts/affirms the technology. It is important to pursue technological action irrespective of the dangerous consequences. The uncertainty of the technological actions is jettisoned in the name of revelation. Bacon argues that the inventions of printing, gunpowder, and the compass have done more to benefit humanity than all the philosophical debates and political reforms have done to the human kind throughout history.
The distinctly modern way of being-with technology may be articulated in terms of four interrelated arguments: (1) the will to technology is ordained for humanity by God or by nature; (2) technological activity is morally beneficial because, while stimulating human action, it ministers to physical needs and increases sociability; (3) knowledge acquired by a technical closure with the world is more true than abstract theory; and (4) nature is no more real than artifice – indeed, it operates by the same principles.
Romantic Uneasiness: The pre modern way of being with technology effectively limited the rapid technical expansions in the west for approximately 2000 years. The proximate causes of this radical transformation were, of course, legion: geographic, economic, political, military and scientific and the author questions then what brought all such factors together in England to engender a new way of life. Romanticism is what came out from this yelling for change.
This paved the way for the new way of being with the technology, one that can be identified as with ancient skepticism or modern optimism but tries to be neutral by accepting change but showing uneasiness towards the change. Mitcham argues that the Romanticism is a form of questioning. On the ancient view, technology was seen as a turning away from God or the gods. On the modern view, it is ordained by God or, with the Enlightenment rejection of God, by nature. With the romantics the will to technology either remains grounded in nature or is cut free from all extra-human determination.
In the former instance, however, nature is reconceived not just as mechanistic movement but as an organic striving toward creative development and expression. William Wordsworth tries to demonstrate the same thing through his poems. In which he first shows exult over intellectual mastery and inventions and then in the following poems looks back and grieves over the great change that happened because of inventions and the outrage done to the nature. Then he writes how unpropped are these arts and high inventions.
Rousseau argues the need for actions, not words, and approves the initial achievements of the Renaissance in freeing humanity from a barren medieval Scholasticism. He argues that the destruction is better than inaction. He then points out to a paradox that: turning against technology – but in the name of ideals that are at the heart of technology. In with the way of romantic way of being with technology, there is a paradox. There is a certain ambivalence built in to this attitude. The attitude itself has not been adopted whole-hearted way by the modern culture.