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Techno Babble

June 17, 2011

I’ve been riding my bicycle a lot lately, and it made me think about the concept of self-actualization through technology.  Yes, I am a nerd.

One can understand this perspective on technology in a fairly intuitive and common-sense way: through the use of a relatively simple tool (i.e., a bicycle), I am able to attain physical feats that I would not be able to achieve with my body alone (i.e., moving much more quickly and efficiently).  Of course, the same can be said for tools as simple as a hammer or shoes or eyeglasses or whatever helps us manipulate the physical world beyond simple human limits.

To expand the metaphor, technology can help us manipulate the world in senses that are less strictly physical.  In humanity’s interaction with the intellectual world, one obvious example would be the use of ink and paper or computers and hard drives to expand our knowledge retention beyond our brains’ physical limitations (i.e., storing our brains in the cloud or pooling and communicating our knowledge).  Or, in a less heady sense, social interactions have been enhanced by technology, whether it’s letter-writing or tweeting (fine, even Facebooking).  The common thread here is that technology assists us to become the person we would be in the absence of natural, inherent(?) restraints.

In the Heideggerian take on technology, he observes that the word “technology” stems from the Greek techne, which 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.”  For the Greeks, techne was intimately linked to the bringing-forth of truth out of concealment, aka the poetic.  Simply put, technology is about actualization, whether of the self or of something else; the truest, most poetic version of the object is the end which technology seeks.

What’s potentially most interesting about all this is that some of the effects of technology seem fairly unpoetic and unpalatable.  If you ever looked at the comments section of a YouTube video, you might note that the technological innovation of socialization on the internet brings out the worst in humanity.  You might believe that instant access to the world’s knowledge and infinite other stimuli are making our own brains less capable of deep concentration.  You might even say that credit default swaps or a mortgage-backed security are the cutting-edge technological innovations of capitalism.

The obvious rejoinder, as espoused by Heidegger, is that these are instances where prudent humans will realize that technology is not the determinant of the answer or the essence of things, but rather it is the delivery mechanism.  The fact that a credit default swap is dangerous says something about human nature or capitalism, not about technology.  The fact that one is rude to another when cloaked in the anonymity of an online message board says something about the speaker or our discourse, not about anonymity.  And so on.

By the same token, consider the strangeness of the technological possibilities we allow into our emotional worlds.  The main technology of our emotional psyche seems to be drugs; the ones we allow are the ones that are good as technologies, rather than as methods for bringing-forth.  We prescribe drugs because they make people more palatable (e.g., prozac, etc.), and tend to prohibit those that make people more authentic (e.g., LSD, etc.).  We indulge in drugs that mask and blur, but shy away from technologies that would expose our truer selves.  Why do we have a policy to limit access to our emotional selves?  Are we afraid of what we might bring forth?  If so, what does that say about us and our relationship to technology?

I guess I’ll just have to stick with my bike for now.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2011 3:05 pm

    I think you are on to something here about limits being placed on our emotional selves. Isn’t this the very existential dilemma that defines the topic?

    I would argue against you that the technology of our emotional psyche is drugs (or at least, that it was the only topic that you explored). Since I find this particular area fascinating, I would be interested in you exploring more of what is in this space. You define techne, which is important in knowing where to start in this argument, for how is something like the systematic approach of yoga or meditative practices not stepping on the boundaries of what is a conventional definition of technology and what is the essence of techne?

    Perhaps it is telling that your self-actualization moment came while riding a bicycle in a manner to make your body more fit. You talk about the physical realities riding a bicycle gives you, but was it purposeful to forget to mention that the emotion of this post came from that experience too?

  2. Bob jones permalink
    July 21, 2011 6:43 pm

    Drop the thesaurus and tell us what you actually think–


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