Mother Technology: A Solace against “Alzheimer”

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Certain canonical texts, like the Quran, claim that we are living in an artificial world, where senses and instinct can barely allow us to see, feel, and touch what the “real” world is all about. In chapter 29: verse 64, the Quran says: “What is the life of this world but amusement and play? But verily the Home in the Hereafter that is life indeed if they but knew.” Perhaps if there is one single hermeneutic to this verse it could be that Man’s deepest experience with this life is no longer with nature, but rather with “things” and technology. This hermeneutic represents a dialogical reality, of authenticity and travesty. In other words, at the center of this technical milieu, human conscious has become “thingified” or chosifié.

With the advent of modern technology, this dualism has been reinforced and rarely anyone has escaped this free relationship to a virtual world. But, has mankind become the new creator of a different and artificial life from the one meant in the canonical texts? If by creation we mean reconstruction of a substance or a being then the answer is yes, because technology makes us pretend to be and have a different veracity. Facebook and video games remain glaring examples here. Millions of Internet or “MUDs” users interact in a virtual interface, using a pseudo-identity in which you can play a role as close or as far away from your “real self” as you choose. Things one has never had in “real” life from medieval fantasy to playing in Real Madrid soccer team, technology constructs whatever captures one’s imagination, both by playing a role and by participating in building a world.

In the same line of thought, social networking captures this essence of withdrawal to a world that reduces nature to a set of manipulable powers. It presents an attempt to make the human image appears more elastic than what physical presence suggests. It simply leaves behind what you are and makes all things new. In other words, it allows you to imagine yourself anywhere in the world at any time, doing anything or just about anything. So, there is an unparalleled opportunity to play with one’s identity and to “try out” new ones in that the latter becomes not so much an alternative but a parallel life.

This life, emptied of old meaning and enlivened with a new one—any psychotherapeutical meaning you can find—to witness the death of events, of memory, of unresolved personal issues and more generally, of the nature of self. The same dialogical emptiness and representation of reality could be projected on the painter and cameraman. While the former maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the latter “penetrates deeply into its web”. Yet, there is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. (Benjamin, 14)   

While the essence of “amusement” and “play”, as illustrated above, could be reproduced in video games, social media, painting, etc. The very notion of an inner, “true self” is called into question.

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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)