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Chapter 42~ “Three Ways of Being-With Technology” by Carl Mitcham September 13, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR.
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Chapter 42~ “Three Ways of Being-With Technology” by Carl Mitcham

From “From Artifact to Habitat: Studies in the Critical Engagement of Technology” (1990)

Mitcham begins his essay by revealing a question to which there is no clear answer: in the relationship between humanity and technology, which is primary?

Instead of falling into one of two camps on that issue – humanity controls technology or technology exerts “profound influences on the ways we live” (490) – Mitcham outlines three ways in which humanity is “being-with” technology.

Mitcham pauses to acknowledge Heidegger, who in his work Being and Time (1927), discussed the notion of “being-with.” However, whereas Heidegger  sees “being-with” as “an immediate personal presence in technics,” Mitcham also sees social being-with activated through ideas, which can “become a language or logos of technics, a ‘technology’” (491).

Because it may not always be possible for people to articulate or even be aware of this idea of being-with technology (and as a result, they cast it aside), Mitcham offers a “grounding” of sorts by discussing his three ways in which humanity may be-with technology: ancient skepticism, Renaissance and Enlightenment optimism, and romantic ambiguity or uneasiness. By looking at these three ways, we can perhaps begin to see how difficult it is to “live with modern technology and its manifest problems” (491).

Ancient Skepticism

The thought that technology is bad but necessary or technology is necessary but dangerous; these thoughts manifest themselves in early Western philosophy. Bending to technology, according to ancient skepticism, could result in a person denouncing faith and nature, could sway a person from moderation (the first thing Socrates believed a man should possess), and could keep a person from transcendence because he would be “of the world.” Being-with technology then, during this time, was “an uneasy being-along-side-of and working-to-keep-at-arms-length” (494).

Enlightenment Optimism

Major shift from ancient skepticism. Whereas in ancient skepticism, the burden of proof was on those who favored technology; in enlightenment optimism, the burden of proof is on those who oppose technology. The goodness found within technology, for this segment, seems to come from the notion that God has given us the OK to use technology and because of this, any misuse of the technology is an accident. Man, formed in the image and likeness of God, are meant to be creators; as such, it’s better “to pursue technological action, never mind the consequences.  Art plays a major role in this “movement.” Technology is seen as a virtue because our action toward it stimulates human action and increases sociability, and it [technology] is truer than abstract theory.

Romantic Uneasiness

Romanticism represents the first self-conscious questioning of modern technology. Its notion is “technological intention, that is the will to power, should not be pursued to the exclusion of other volitional options – or that it should be guided by aesthetic ideals” (498). Elements that constitute this period’s framing of technology include:

  • Technology is an aspect of creativity, and at times, the use of it makes man move away from other endeavors
  • Technology brings forth new material wealth, but tends to eliminate social affection
  • Imagination and vision are more important than technology, scientific knowledge, and reason
  • Artifacts [aside: the tools?] are part of the process and can reveal the sublime.

In the end, romanticism’s ambiguity and almost wishy-washiness toward technology has probably been its main hindrance and has hurt its ability “to take hold as truly viable way of life” (503)

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