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Chapter 51 ~ “Luddism as Epistemology” by Langdon Winner September 29, 2009

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Chapter 51 ~ “Luddism as Epistemology” by Langdon Winner (1977)

Winner begins his piece with a brief discussion of various suggestions (from Goodman, Bookchin, Marcuse, and Ellul) on how we can eliminate the problems that technology has brought (“brought” being a weak work in that we actually brought the technology into existence) into our lives.

Winner’s proposal contains the following suggestions:

  • The search for new technological systems
  • The development of these forms participation of those concerned with their everyday employment and effects.
  • Integration of specific principles to guide further technological construction: Technology be intelligible to non-experts, Technology be flexible and mutable, Technology be judged according to the degree of dependency they tend to foster
  • The understanding of technology as a means that can only be used when there is an understanding of “what is appropriate.”

Winner immediately offers up faults that might be seen in the suggestions, such as utopianism and unreality. Two barriers he sees with this notion are those people who ignore problems by not focusing on the problems with the system but by adding new features to the existing system and the fact that no one truly knows how to actually create a new system because no knowledge is present to do this.

He uses the example of the counterculture of the 60s to show how we can change the outward appearance of a problem, but it doesn’t eliminate the problem.

For Winner, the question of “means” must be examined for true change to take place, and here, he brings up the idea of dismantling systems in order to understand. However, this is not the breaking off machines or the smashing of machines and some believe Luddites to do. This is more self-reflection and examination because “the most interesting parts of the technological order in this regard are not those found in the structure of physical apparatus anyway. I have tried to suggest that the technologies of concern are actually forms of life – patterns of human consciousness and behavior adapted to a rational productive design” (608-9).

Luddism, in Winner’s mind, calls for using self as research. Disconnecting one’s self from technology and noting the needs, habits, or discomforts that arise because of the disconnection is important to understand how much we need a particular form of technology in our life and if there are other, more effective, less obtrusive forms of technology that can be built to blend better with our lives.

The most significant alternative in Luddism is not this, however. It is simply not fixing technological systems as they break down. To Winner, society seems to see this “fixing” as “growth,” but if we actually refused to fix these systems, we could possibly develop new technologies that benefit us.

Winner concludes his essay by taking us back 2,500 years to Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” to illustrate that these problems are not new. We just find new ways to reinvent the problems, or to escalate them. And perhaps it’s time to truly think about what we can do to help ourselves. “Perhaps means can be found to rid the human world of our self-made afflictions” (610).


Chapter 50 ~ “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto” by Chellis Glendinning September 28, 2009

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Chapter 50 ~ “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto” by Chellis Glendinning (1990)

Though there are those that believed Luddites were “reckless machine-smashers,” that’s not the complete picture for Glendinning. Luddites were fighting against a capitalistic society bred on power, resources, and wealth while trying to support their view of a world that connected work, community, and family. Technology threatened their way of life, the quality of their lives, and so, in almost desperation, they fought the machine.

Neo-Luddites of the 20th century echo this calls in their roles as activists, workers, neighbors, social critics, and scholars.

Glendinning uses Mumford to illustrate a definition of technology. Technology, because it consists of machines, techniques, and social organizations that make a machine workable, is a worldview that supports a mechanistic way of life where humanity is replaced with efficiency, ownership, supremacy. In order to stop technology and its destructive ways, we must create a new worldview.

There are three principles of Neo-Luddism

  1. Neo-Luddites are not anti-technology; there are just against any kind of technology that strips humanity to nothing more than rationality.
  2. All technologies are political; all technologies are built with an agenda. Reading about television in this section definitely makes me think about the internet and its ability to bring entertainment and information to households, its offering to corporations “a surefire method of expanding their markets and controlling social and political thought” (604). And considering how much times families actually spend “together” anymore when they could easily touch base via text messages or Twitter, I can definitely see the breakdown of family communication and the mediation of reality.
  3. The personal view of technology is dangerously limited; we have to be technocritics. We have to examine technologies through their “sociological context, economic ramifications, and political meanings” (604). It’s not just about how we gain from technology but also how we lose, and how the technology will affect our overall life.

Glendinning illustrates a program for the future that entails four things Neo-Luddites are in favor of.

  1. The dismantling of destructive devices, to include as nuclear and chemical technologies, genetic engineering technologies, television, electromagnetic and computer technologies.
  2. The search for new technological forms; using Winner, Glendinning asserts that these technological forms should favor the creation of technologies by the people who use them. The technology shouldn’t be hard to understand and should be flexible in so to “foster independence from technological addiction and promise political freedom, economic justice, and ecological balance” (605).
  3. The creation of technologies in which politics, morality, ecology, and technics are merged for the benefit of life on Earth.
  4. The development of a life-enhancing worldview in Western technological societies.

Wonder if we can tag this on to Mitcham’s three ways of being-with technology chart. It seems the Neo-Luddites want the best of both worlds, the rationality with the creative expression; definitely is a way of being-with technology and isn’t connected fully with the three ways Mitcham describes.

Chapter 29 ~ “Tool-Users vs. Homo Sapiens and The Megamachine” by Lewis Mumford September 7, 2009

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From “Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development” (1967)

Chapter One: Prologue

Mumford begins his prologue discussing how fast

Within a century, the world has transformed drastically, mostly due to the impact of the mathematical and physical sciences upon technology and our move from empirical, tradition-bound technics to an experimental mode.

These changes have altered the human personality, and if the world continues in the pace it’s going, more alterations loom ahead – From that “loom,” I sense a concern that this could happen from Mumford.

Mumford sees the change of man (in regards to his relation with technics) as one that has gone from primeval man who crafted tools and weapons in order to do things (achieve “mastery over the forces of nature”) to a man who has disconnected himself from his “organic habitat” (343).

This new “megatechnics” (which I’m assuming is man as master who is disconnected from nature) will lead to a new automatic world in which man will be “passive, purposeless, and machine-driven.”

Mumford’s purpose is to question the assumptions that arose due to the present (1967) notion that scientific and technical progress are treated as ends in themselves.

Before starting upon his purpose, he does state is disagreement with Marx (that material instruments of production are the central place of human development) and with Teilhard de Chardin who projects a future in which all the possibilities of human development will come to an end.

Mumford wants to start with insight into the historic nature of man, but it’s hard to do so because the history has been puffed up with the moral superiority and the lack of discussion regarding human limitations and technical possibilities [aside, a lot of our readings touch upon this idea]. He decides to review the stages of man’s emergence from its primal beginnings to the present.

Many issues arise for Mumford.

We wrongly place tools as a central part of man’s survival, and we tend to substitute tools and machines for technology.

We dismiss other vital components of technics, like the role of containers, and even fail to mention the other animals who have their own innovations in this regard. In fact, if we truly looks at man pre-Homo sapiens, he would not compare with other species if technical proficiency alone defined intelligence. Man as “tool-using animal” has skewed the path of human development.

For Mumford, “…there was nothing uniquely human in tool-making until it was modified by linguistic symbols, esthetic designs, and socially transmitted knowledge. At that point, the human brain, not just the hand, was what made a profound difference” (345).

What was uniquely human was man’s use of his body and “a brain capable of scanning a wider environment and holding all the different parts of his experience together” (346).

Mumford argues that with man’s overdeveloped and overactive brain, man was able to not only assist in his survival needs but also to use his body and his mind for more cultural outlets…a notion that some have disputed or argued against. [aside, What is wrong with being cultural? Seems like a lot of people want to place man in the same box that Heidegger talked about. If technology is the means to an end, then man is simply a tool that makes the technology work. He doesn’t have thoughts, beliefs, values, morals, rituals. He’s a machine that works machines to produce things.]

Mumford latches onto this thought of mind and culture as he asserts “that at every stage man’s inventions and transformations were less for the purpose of increasing the food supply or controlling nature than for utilizing his own immense organic resources and expressing his latent potentialities, in order to fulfill more adequately his superorganic demands and aspirations” (347).

The Megamachine

Mumford introduces us to the “megamachine,” the men who collectively came together to perform tasks inconceivable of the time (and even now).

[aside, interesting to see Mumford move from “secured a corpselike obedience” (348) to megamachine’s ultimate products in Egypt (tombs, cemeteries, and mummies), to his question “If this association with inordinate power and productivity with equally inordinate violence and destruction a purely accidental one?” (349). My response, though pessimistic probably, would be no, it’s not an accident. Considering who ran the megamachine (men who derived their power and author from a cosmic sources with a “divine command and ruthless military coercion”) and how those within the machine were not truly men because they were “created” to be devoid of self and social aspects and to see their work as for the greater good, I could definitely see some violence and destruction being played out.]

And through this ritualistic work, the work began to replace “religious ritual as a means of coping with anxiety and promoting psychal stability in mass populations” (349-50). The repetitive work also seemed to work as a means of self-control. [aside, not surprised in the least. Can only imagine the urges, thoughts, fears, concerns, wants that percolated in the mind while doing such excruciating labor. To numb all the other human engines that couldn’t thrum, one – I’m assured – numbed those engines, controlled their urges and thoughts with the task at hand.]

Mumford jumps from early civilization back to the present and states, “This unconditional commitment to the Megamachine is now regarded by many as the main purpose of human existence” (350).

We are now, Mumford asserts, bound to reexamine the last several centuries to not only discuss the ideological foundations of the whole system, but also to “explain why the whole process of technical development has become increasingly coercive, totalitarian, and – in its direct human expression – compulsive and grimly irrational, indeed downright hostile to more spontaneous manifestations of life that cannot be fed into the machine” (350).

For if man’s manipulation and manufacturing of tools is the moment of his development, why are we now in a place where man has become an automaton and is the passive mover for the technology?

To bring balance to man, science, and technology; Mumford suggests a move toward a liberation from work. Man needs play and man needs serious responsible work. With “more educative, mind-forming, self-rewarding work, on a voluntary basis, the most salutary contribution of a life-centered technology” may be formed (351).