Langdon Winner, Technologies as Forms of Life
NATURE OF TECHNOLOGY AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF TECHNOLOGY
•His view/definition of tech is broad:
- Artificial aids to human activities, including
- Instruments, techniques and systems
- Systems: Transportation systems (car versus bus/train/bike/walk)
- Techniques: Division of Labor, assembly line
•Phil of tech "examines critically the nature and significance of
artificial aids to human activity"
•Importance of phil of tech for a society "so firmly based on countless
sophisticated instruments, techniques and systems"
•Modern society has not seriously engaged in phil of tech.
This is because:
- One: "Astonishing hold idea of progress has on society"
- Taken for granted that the only reliable source for improving
human condition is new tech (machines, techniques and
- A faith that has not been dented by all the environmental and social ills
that have come along with tech advancement
- Two: Assumption that techs are neutral
- According to this assumption, technologies are "tools that can be used well or poorly or for good or bad purposes"
- Can use my knife to slice loaf of bread or stab a person
- The knife itself is neither good nor bad, but neutral
TECH AS FORMS OF LIFE
- Problem with idea that tech is neutral: It fails to see how techs provide
structure for human activity and are FORMS OF LIFE
- Techs not simply aids to human activity, but powerful forces that
reshape activities and their meaning
- E.g., Introduction of robot to industrial workplace not just
increases productivity but redefines what work means in
- Tech devices tend to engender distinctive worlds of their own
- Driver walker example 106
- Driver tries to ask his walking neighbor over for dinner
- Honks (annoys walker), slows and shouts invitation
(walker wonders who is shouting at him and can't hear
him), driver slowed traffic, so person behind him honks
- How do automobiles affect texture of modern life?
- Sprawl, difficulty of walking/biking, danger/deaths
- Techs as forms of life
- As techs built and put to use
- New worlds being built, new patterns of human activity, new
- Not a "secondary consequence" but a primary accomplishment
of any new tech
- A tech system that involves people won't work unless the people
change their behavior to suit how it works
- Consider answering machines or email
- Modern tech development changed individual habits, concepts
of self, ideas of space and time, social relationships
- Examples? Letter writing? People define themselves in terms of cars? World much smaller place, email community?
- Eventually new techniques shed tool-like quality and become
part of our very humanity
- We are beings who work on assembly lines, talk on
phones, eat process foods, clean our homes with powerful
- Many times tech allow us to do in a different way what we always
did (work, talk, eat, clean)
- But they can radically alter how we do these things
- TV as a universal babysitter, as what we spend a 1/4 of our
lives doing, as what we talk about
- In some sense, can't really turn off TV
- Though typically new tech transforms very old patterns of
human behavior, sometimes they generate entirely new types of
- Air flight
- Altering human biology via genetic engineering
- Settlements in outer-space
- •Tech as from of life is illustration of idea that people are what they
- View held by existentialists, pragmatists, and Marx
- Marx: "As individuals express their life, so they are"
WE DON'T THINK THROUGH AFFECTS TECHS HAVE ON US (And we need to)
- Vast changes in structure of our common world due to tech undertaken
with little attention to what they mean
- All we tend to look at are issues like does the new tech:
- Provide a convenient service or perform a service more efficiently
- Make a profit
- Tech's broader significance only show up later as surprising
"side effects" or "secondary consequences"
- We seldom examine pending innovations with careful awareness
of what those changes mean
- With tech we enter a series of social contracts whose terms
revealed only after signing them
- Though tech innovation we make a world for us to live in.
- So Winner recommends that we make sure we understand and examine the important psychological,
social and political changes that are part of any significant tech change
- Are we designing a world that will enlarge possibility for growth in
human freedom, sociability, intelligence, creativity and self-government?
- Or doing the reverse?
- Tech Somnambulism versus Tech Determinism (DT)
- •Rejects tech DT: Idea that tech innovation is basic cause of change in
society and that humans have little choice than to watch this
ineluctable process unfold
- Too strong/sweeping a claim
- To passive: Ignores genuine choices that arise in course
- He rejects idea that we will just have to endure tech change,
for "its going to happen anyway" and we just have to
- •Accepts Tech somnambulism: We willingly sleepwalk though the
process of reconstituting conditions of our lives.
- He thinks we do this, but that we should not.