I awoke in the middle of last night with the thought that I hate technology, and to a certain extent that is true. In my recent attempts to take my work to a broader domain, I recognize how much I am hidden behind layers and layers of equipment that I do not easily understand. Not only am I lost in the equipment, but also the intersubjectivity of relationship is also lost to me. I don’t like it, but my options are limited.
Years ago, when I was an anesthetist, I made a commitment to myself that I would not use machinery that I could not take apart, and fix myself when necessary. I can no longer keep that commitment (not for years now; I could in the early days of computers — almost anyway).
For a long time, I have been saying to myself: “Technology is wonderful — when it works. And when it doesn’t, it is dehumanizing.” It is a tyrant that demands attention, principally because I want a particular outcome, and the “only (?)” way I can get that outcome is to engage with the technology. This is not completely true, but enough so that it irks me when there are problems. Perhaps it is my age (I have been told that younger people multi-task the issues much more easily) — but I think it is more that that.
The major difficulty I encounter is that technology forces me into a particular mode of response. This is especially so with computer software — for example, this blog software gives me only limited ways to format text, and repeatedly indicates that my style is sometimes abysmal. (Of course, this is according to the experts, whomever they are. One of my definitions of expert is x-spurt, an unknown quantity of a drip under high pressure.)
In addition, there is the learning curve of using the software. At some level, software updates attempt to forestall this difficulty; Microsoft Word, for example, has vastly improved over the years, but then there is the learning curve of keeping up with the updates. At some point, I simply give up, and “accept” the limitations.
But there is a bigger picture that I want to address.
I am aware from my PhD research of the warnings against technology by major philosophers of the 20th century (e.g., Berdyaev, Lewis, Ellul). Berdyaev, writing in 1934, noted “We are confronted by a fundamental paradox: without technique [technology] culture is impossible . . . yet a final victory of technique . . . brings the destruction of culture.” He also noted “we are living in an age when technique predominates over wisdom, in the ancient noble sense of that word.”
This engagement with technology really began with the Scientific Revolution, and the birth of the modern era, in the 16th century. Largely initiated by Copernicus and Descartes, solidified by Bacon, science took on a new role. Tarnas (1991) notes that “Bacon equated knowledge with power . . . [A potent visionary, he] persuaded future generations to fulfill his revolutionary program: the scientific conquest of nature for man’s welfare and God’s glory.” In my book Acedia, I suggested that “with the decline of religion, God’s glory got lost, and man’s conquest has led ultimately . . . to the dark side of humanity, and the problems of climate change.”
I am not suggesting here that technology is intrinsically bad, but that technology has allowed us as a species to express our hubris and our greed. Our technology is incredible — in my lifetime alone, we have had the first atomic bombs; we have placed individuals on the moon; we have computers; we have gene-splicing and GMOs; the list goes on. But we also have massive destruction of the environment, the still-present risk of nuclear destruction, global warming, et cetera — this list also goes on. And we have the duplicity of our culture, expressed by such as the political controversies of the past 50 years, usually as the desire to accumulate wealth as a result of our technology.
It is not technology that is the issue; it is our hubris and our greed. We must mature beyond this; the risks to our species are now too great. Somehow we must find ways of moving forward, keeping many of the benefits of technology, yet cautious of how invasive it can be.
Berdyeav, N. (1972). Man and machine. In C. Mitcham, & R. Mackey (Eds.), Philosophy and technology: Readings in the philosophical problems of technology (C. O. Bennigsen, Trans., pp. 203-213). New York, NY: The Free Press. (Quoted text is from pages 204 – 207).
MacQuarrie, D. (2012). Acedia: The Darkness Within, and the darkness of Climate Change. Bloomington, IN, USA: AuthorHouse. (Quoted text is from page 71).
Tarnas, R. (1991). The passion of the Western mind: Understanding the ideas that have shaped our world view. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. (Quoted text is from pages 273 – 275).