I'm not sure about this anti-technology stance of yours, Josh. Technology is a shovel, a saddle, an abacus, just as much as it is a tractor, a train or a computer. At which point in time would you have liked development to stop? 1345? 1768? 1967? Technology is a good thing. Once upon a time if your crops failed, starvation was the result. Technological development has got rid of that spectre, at least.
Thank you for the question, and for promoting some further contemplation concerning Technology.
Here are some of my initial thoughts in response.
1). Technology (like money, religions, weapons) is a form of power
. As with all forms of power, they accrue to those already in power which they then use to cement their position.
Remember how the internet was hailed as the great democratising power-to-the-people technology - and what has it become in 20 years? A means of global surveillance and the basis Technofeudalism
(Yanis Varoufakis's latest book).
2). You list a number of artefacts as being ‘Technology’. This is true in the physical form of tools but it is only one aspect Technology.
Technology, more essentially, is a carrier of values
. It carries a way of thinking, the mindset of those who develop them. A hammer, by design, says “give me something to hit”, enframing and objectifying the world as ‘hittable’. IE: technology is not neutral.
The ‘way of thinking’ for the last 500 years is to “subdue nature and make her our slave”
(Francis Bacon, 1521-1626), and more recently to have Nature “on tap” and as “standing reserve” (Martin Heidegger’s (1889-1976) “Bestand”).
Since humans are part of Nature, it is not surprising “on tap” technological thinking has resulted in things like the gig economy - as well as social-media companies getting free work input (information), and then renting it back.
3). Technology’s much vaunted ‘neutrality’ (“guns don’t kill, people do”, implying we have to control the humans, not the technologies) is also falsely derived from Science’s much vaunted ‘neutral’ activity as the open and honest objective exploration of ‘how Nature works’.
Apart from the fact there is no such thing as ‘objectivity’ (see Sociology of Science, eg: Steve Woolgar’s “Science: the Very Idea”), Science is considered ontologically prior to Technology (as in Technology = ‘merely’ Applied Science), meaning that all the fundamental philosophical questions about technology are claimed to be answered by the Philosophy of Science — and it is this that gives rise to both thinking that Technology = Neutral, and which then leads towards the widespread belief in, and worship of, The Technology Fix
(eg: geo-engineering to fix global-warming).
Science as practiced is not an ‘objective search for truth’ — it is a religion with its high priests and its heretics and its power-games — and all further distorted by the agendas of those who fund it (biggest funder is the military, by courtesy of governments).
4). The above three points are all situated in the longer-running ideology of Technology=Progress
. Partly this arises from not distinguishing between technical progress (which there certainly has been) and technological progress (a mixed bag, where technology meets society).
Those who believe humans are at the cutting edge of history’s Technology Development have not seriously considered how some temples, thousands of years old, were built.
As with all ideologies, Technology=Progress sounds good, has an element of truth, and is therefore hard to pin down and refute.
And partly the idea of progress, and especially progress through technology, has religious roots in eschatological thinking and the ‘God given task’ to bring about a ‘new earth’ with a 1000 years of peace (I need to look up what American evangelical christians and their Republican spokespeople are saying, to confirm this statement).
5). What makes humans human is to be able to say “no” (or “yes”) with equal ease and legitimacy. If we never say “no” to certain technologies (or are simply unable to say ‘no’ because there is no viable alternative), we will be left with “what technology can do, it must do”
— and narrative-makers abound to support that mantra as the way of the future (eg: Yuval Noah Harari. Ray Kurzweil). Given the global lurch towards authoritarianism, you can easily imagine where what-technology-can-do-it-must-do is going to take us.
It is increasingly difficult to live out of the technological-system, so to speak; digital-only money will hugely close the net further, reducing genuine choice regarding the right to self-determination, the right to privacy, and more besides.
6). I confess to being a latter-day Luddite. I don’t have a smart-phone, just a 20-year old Nokia, which I don’t generally carry around with me; I don’t want to be interrupted when I’m working. I don’t do social media except DUP. I look at emails once a day, max. I use (paper) maps when travelling. The uncritical acceptance of new-gadget-Technologies (“ … oh I suppose it’s progress…”) can degrade human interaction, and cognitive development.
I confess too to having worked as an engineer, then academic (Philosophy of Technology, Professional & Engineering Ethics), then inventor-designer-maker of hand-weaving tools, then attempting to live off the land in Portugal (failed), and now in my retirement consider myself a sculptor, and builder of temples where Technology and Nature become one. This journey with technology has been driven by one life-long question: What does it mean to be human that Technology might somehow deprive me of?
7). Amongst being other things (eg: Homo Sapiens, Homo Ludens, Homo Orans) we are also Homo Faber
(Man, the animal who makes things). But what’s this gift really for?
I recommend two recent books, both by James Bridle.
(i).Ways of Being — Animals, Plants, Machines: The Search for Planetary Intelligence (Penguin Books, 2023).
(ii).New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (Verso Press, new edition 2023).
(I’d love to recommend my own book on technology too, but I haven’t written it yet)
… but you’ll find several ‘technology poems’ on my list