What is the Essence of Technology?

Image“The more questionably we ponder the essence of technology, the more mysterious the essence of art becomes.” That’s how Martin Heidegger closed his ontological analysis on the “Question Concerning Technology”. Perhaps, such enigmatic position comes from an emphasis on the essence of technology as a vehicle through which the question of being can be unfolded. In fact, its ontological reality demands thorough analysis of what technology is. How do we examine technology? How do we explain it? Is it a phenomenon? Is it a tool or an end per se? Is it a man-made mean to serve an end established by man?

 Clearly, Heidegger disassembles the word technology and projects it rather as phenomenological as “letting what shows itself to be seen from itself, just as it shows from itself.” In other words, Heidegger’s theory of technology is based on an ontological understanding of being. He examines the structural features of technology as an entity, of what makes it a “being”, its practices and how it correlates with human activity. It is an instrument and an idea at the same time. The whole complex of these contrivances is technology.

 Yet, the anthropological and instrumental definition of technology still does not show its essence. Heidegger went even farther to claim that technology has fourfold causality—the material, the form, the end, and the effect of the finished—all belonging at once to each other, of being responsible for bringing something into appearance. Again one asks: does such causality happen beyond human doing? The answer is no, but neither does it happen exclusively in man. There is a correspondence between the two. In this frame, technology, as the Greek stem technê explains, is “the name not only for the activities and skills of the craftsman but also for the arts of the mind and the fine arts.” (Heidegger, 318) So, if we speak of the “essence” of technology we speak of a process, of different ways through which it is computed, administered, and developed.

 If the “essence” of technology is a goal-oriented activity, or a powerful tool to increase production “coupled with scientific and technical progress,” as Habermas argued, its reality remains intricate as it relies on computational ideas. These ideas, as Brian Cantwell-Smith argued, “is a little like skating on thin ice: all goes well so long as you keep moving. Stop and probe, and cracks open up—the gloss of solidity is lost.” (“Age of Significance”, 3) But, how can it take million of lines of code to implement very simple applications in any machine?

It is not evident that these functions could succumb to scientific analysis at all, or whether could be reduced to a human activity, making it more amenable to study from the social sciences, humanities—maybe even the arts.

But still, could these cracks be healed with education and time? Although it is not clear that these two could define the “essence” of technology, Habermas argues that behind the modern developmental process there lies a structure of rationality that is realized in specific forms privileged by the dominant society. This does not challenge Weber’s account of technical rationalization, as Habermas appears to identify it with its specifically capitalist forms. Cantwell-Smith, however, argues that “whatever the reason, the central notions of one of society’s most widely heralded developments (computing) have remained remarkably conceptually untheorised.” (Smith, 4)


3 thoughts on “What is the Essence of Technology?

  1. Salut! Moi aussi je voudrais savoir ce que c’est que l’encadrement. Enframing seems to be the “framework” for technology. I wonder if Heidegger isn’t wondering if technological experience frames the total of our experience, or if it’s possible that we use technology to frame and order our engagement with the world.

  2. I agree and also think it is interesting that in, The Age of Significance, Smith reasons that man’s depth of gullibility may not be immediately evident. He contends that it is no longer odd to construe biological organisms as simply “information processing systems,” and that in the past decades researches have grown content to rest explanations on computational philosophies. I think this too supports of his claim of attempting to gloss over the cracks.

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