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Chapter 54 ~ “Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals, with the Author’s 2000 Perspective” by John McDermott October 5, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR, Technology.
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Chapter 54 ~ “Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals, with the Author’s 2000 Perspective” by John McDermott

McDermott doesn’t waste much time attacking Mesthene for his middle of the road approach in discussing technology and society. Although McDermott does believe Mesthene “is anti-capitalist in spirit” (a spirit shared by McDermott), he also thinks Mesthene “lacks bite” in his argument (638).

McDermott strikes a very personal chord in his essay as he uses Vietnam (and his experience there) to illustrate the importance ot examining Mesthene’s abstract distinction between technology’s positive opportunities and its “negative externalities.” He shows two features from this anecdote.

1- From the standpoint of the planners, the bombing program McDermott describes is very rational because it creates unavailable opportunities.
2- From the standpoint of goals and values not programmed by designers, the program is very irrational.

McDermott bashes the notion that technology “is a self-correcting system” (640) and the idea of “laissez innover,” which Mesthene suggests will benefit all of mankind; McDermott, on the other hand, sees this principle as a way to mark a separation between those who make the technology and those who consume it (the rest of us).

The GI story example starting on page 642 painted a stark illustration of this separation in that there are those who have the information and there are those (like the GIs) who without the information needed “placed in a position where their social behavior is governed largely by the principle of blind obedience” (643).

Though McDermott notes that there have been technological innovations that have brought forth a democratization to society, we are now (now being 1969) moving back to a more stratified society where once again, there will be a small elite of knowledge makers and a majority who are led by this group.

Not surprisingly, in his retrospective in 2000, McDermott still sees the same problems as he did 40 years ago and shows how with each generation, from the 40s onward, there has seem to be this same issue with a new title, from the “Economic Growth” narrative of the 40s to “The Market” narrative of 2000.


Chapter 53 ~ “The Social Impact of Technological Change” by Emmanuel G. Mesthene October 5, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR, Technology.
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Chapter 53 ~ “The Social Impact of Technological Change” by Emmanuel G. Mesthene (1967)

In our age (age being 1967), Mesthene saw two major differences from any other age:

1- We dispose of a lot of physical power
2- We are beginning to think and act upon the realization of #1

Because of these two things, we are the first to free ourselves from the tyranny of nature.

I laugh a bit reading that because I wonder why living with nature as is must be a problem

For so long, man had been ruled by nature, finding no physical way to conquer it. However, we did use language to “celebrate in art what men could not aspire to in fact” (618).

Though there were inventions in the past, these inventions were sporadic, few and far between. Because of this, society had time to implement the invention, understand it and its ultimate changes to the worldview.

Today, according to Mesthene, technology is less revolutionary because we seek its power at a more frequent rate. Now, we “use invention as a deliberate way to deal with the future” (618).

Does this mean that invention in the past didn’t focus on the future and that all invention was “accidental”?

Reading the following sentences made me cringe a bit: “We are today coming to the further realization that the physical world need not be as it is. We can change it to suit our purposes” (618). Why do I cringe? Not necessarily sure our ability to change the physical world to suit our purposes is a good thing.

As Mesthene write, “Belatedly, we are also realizing the new opportunities that technological development offers us to make new and potentially big mistakes” (619), I was momentarily glad. Felt Mesthene had been wearing rose-colored glasses thus far, but as I continued to read, I got the sense that he was dwelling in the middle of the road on this issue.

Though Mesthene states “technology is nothing if not liberating” (619), he does offer four reasons why many fear technology increasingly enslaves, degrade, and destroys man’s most cherished values. This confuses me a bit because some of the reasons seems like he’s still tata-ing to technology and not coming at this as hard as he should.

1- Technology does destroy some values, and we shouldn’t be shocked by this.
2- Technology often reveals things it did not created; it reveals the hidden and makes the secret public.
3- Technology has the potential for evil.
4- Technology complicates the world.

Because of our fear, we may distrust technology and/or allow the fear to prohibit us from discussing important issues.

Technology, thus, has a dichotomy; it is full of promise, or it discourages and defeats us.

Mesthene pauses here to discuss this attitude of despair/fear and how it can evade our lives and ways of thinking. One thing that interests me in this section is his statement that “the more machines can take over what we do, the more we can do what machines cannot do. That, too, is liberation: the liberation of history’s slaves, finally to be free” (620). I have to admit I never thought beyond the whole “technology will take away our jobs” mentality. Having said that, my thoughts are still colored by my belief that Mesthene is hedging in this article.

“Why not stop it all” Mesthene asks (621). Why not stop what technology is doing? For three reasons, he believes: we do not want to because we have an innate need to know, we cannot because by doing so we become “defeated by the responsibility of being human” (622), and because we accept the first two reasons, we therefore should not stop.

From there, Mesthene moves on to discuss religious views in relation to “failure of nerve” idea he brought up. Holding thoughts on this – still mulling and disagreeing in some ways. Can’t formulate thoughts on it.

Mesthene states three inadequate views about technology.
1- Technology is a virtually unalloyed blessing for man and society.
2- Technology is an unmitigated curse.
3- Technology is not worthy of special notice.

Mesthene takes a moment to talk about the benefits of technology, which he believes is as important as discussing negative impacts before moving into why we might or might not develop or use a particular technology.

In his discussion on containing the negative effects of technology, Mesthene seems to side with those who are innovators, those who look at what benefits them in the long run when determining what products to put out as opposed to also looking at the social harm of putting out said products. Do we really need rules and laws for humans to think humanly? I know this is a complex issue, but personally, it’s hard for me to think values without linking that outside of me, to society and humanity. And if we do create these laws, aren’t we then becoming what Jeannie has talked about in class a few times – people with lazy morals, doing what is right because we have to not because we want to or believe we should do so?

Ultimately, Mesthene concludes his essay in a way in which I can appreciate. He focused on the need to adapt technology, values, and education. With or without technology, values change and to hinge technology solely on values would probably be to the detriment of technology…and society. By embracing what works in all three sectors, we all – from the bottom-up – can become part of the system that makes society work.