Alan Drengson, Four Philosophies of Technology, 1982


1.       Four different “developmental stages/processes” in attitudes toward tech

          a.       Stages of maturation of industrial society’s views toward tech

          b.       Each stage is useful in the development process and has its limits (even last stage?)

          c.       Healthy social change is fostered by a balance between these attitudes

2.       Technological maturity

          a.       Involves gradual transformation of our society into mature, post-industrial culture

          b.       Characterized by human-scaled, ecologically sound, appropriate technologies, consciously designed to fit our moral values





          a.       Dominant during 19th century, industrial development

          b.       Tech is seen as good and as instrument to pursue wealth, power, & taming of nature

                    i.        If tech aims to tame nature, then tech and respect for nature would seem to be in tension

          c.       Whatever can be done to pursue these ends should be done

          d.       The fewer government regulations of tech and market the better

                    i.        Market alone determines which techs will prevail

          e.       Helped stimulate rapid tech development and tech diversity

          f.       Tech becomes end-in-itself: After a while, tech becomes an increasingly powerful social force, becomes autonomous, becomes a goal in itself (instead of a means)

                    i.        More tech for its own sake instead of to help us achieve other goals we have

          g.       Psychological characterization of this attitude toward tech: Exuberance, youthful curiosity, self-centeredness, optimistic self-assertion and individual opportunism


5.       II. TECHNOPHILIA (Love of tech)

          a.       Psychological characterization: Like adolescent love, identifying with object of love

          b.       Humans become enamored with our mechanical cleverness, techniques, and tricks

          c.       Tech not just productive instruments, but toys

          d.       Tech becomes our life game: Pursuit of tech becomes main end of life

          e.       Tech starts to control us, as we can’t disassociate ourselves from our loved technologies

                    i.        People controlled by their blackberries; people on dates sitting next to each other but on their devices

          f.       Loss of ability to see both positive and negative features of tech

          g.       Tech is applied to everything: education, government, trade, office work, health care, personal psychology (drugs), sports (blood doping), sex (viagra), sexual selection of babies, etc

                    i.        Human biotech--engineering human life

          h.       Results in technocracy: Government by technicians, management of a society by technical experts

                    i.        Where tech is a governing force

                    ii.       Rule by and for tech processes

                    iii.      Humans become technologized by own love of techniques

          i.        Unlikely a society will ever get this far, for such extension of tech to everything will stir counter forces

                    i.        People begin to realize that tech is becoming an autonomous force threatening human and nonhuman values

                    ii.       Even biosphere as whole becomes threatened by products & processes of tech activity

          j.        The technological fix reaction: A first typical reaction to these threats is to try to attempt to control technology and its hazards by more technology

                    i.        Geoengineering the climate

          k.       Love affair with automobile as an example of technophilia

                    i.        So infatuated with our cars they become extension of our selves

                    ii.       Insults to them become personal affronts and threats to self esteem

                    iii.      Auto at first a means to an end–transportation–now end in themselves

                    iv.      Autos and their infrastructure become a dominant feature of culture as a whole

                              (1)     Cities, land use, econ well-being become entangled with technology of the automobile

                              (2)     Ends up frustrating many of original values for which auto meant to serve (e.g., freedom)

                    v.       Finally tech of auto can become a threat to life, health, economy and environment, and even our way of life


6.       III. TECHNOPHOBIA (fear of tech)

          a.       Sees that romantic entanglement with tech threatens human integrity and survival

          b.       Realization that only human and humane values can keep tech under human control

          c.       At its extreme, attempts to de-technologize human life

          d.       Desire to return to human autonomy (one of the original motives in pursuing technology)

                    i.        How does technology enhance human autonomy?

          e.       Such autonomy achieved by revitalizing crafts and arts and use of simpler “neoprimitive” technologies

          f.       A reaction that tries to revive simple, “primitive” technologies that preserve certain cultural values

                    i.        Do-it-yourself attitude is present

                    ii.       Aims at self-sufficiency

          g.       Distrust of complex technologies; aims to bring large scale tech to an end

          h.       Desire to bring tech under local human control

          i.        Tech doesn’t always make life easier and safer because those who design and implement it lack understanding of what these powerful tech can do

          j.        Psychological characterization:

                    i.        Technophobia is like disenchantment of early adulthood

                    ii.       Learn that romantic and erotic identification can frustrate growth and generate suffering, grief, fear of loss

                    iii.      Suffers disappointment and pledges to avoid such relationships in future

                    iv.      A step toward more mature relationships with others

          k.       Technophobia as a stage of growth that involves becoming aware of the use of tech in a consciously reflective and critical way


7.       IV. APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY (Technological appropriateness)

          a.       Introduces moral and ecological values into design and application of ecologically sound technologies

          b.       Appropriate design: Right/artful fit between technique, tool, and human, and includes moral and env. limits

                    i.        Move away from overly centralized tech, to decentralized, human-scaled techs that preserve local community values

                    ii.       Values simple technologies

          c.       Reflect on ends/values before we commit ourselves to develop new tech or continue to use older ones

          d.       Tech mastery: Master our tech as instruments to ends & values about which we are clear and freely choose

          e.       Transcend tech as a force in human life that lies beyond our control

          f.       Tech need not be an alien power that overrides responsible human choice


8.       Design requirements of appropriate tech

          a.       Diversity in technologies to keep options open

                    i.        We all shouldn’t be dependent on same tech (?e.g., electricity, computers?)

          b.       Ecologically sound: Promote benign & symbiotic interactions between humans, machines, and biosphere; necessary for sustainable economies; compatible with ecosystem principles

          c.       Thermodynamically sound in generation/use of energy

                    i.        Unsound: If it took more energy to produce ethanol than was in the ethanol

          d.       Consider all the costs (measurable and nonmeasurable)

          e.       Promotes human development through their use;

                    i.        Use of tech becomes part of life-enhancement

                    ii.       Labor becomes meaningful work


          f.       Tech designed to respect value of and to enhance individual person, eco integrity (communion with nature), and cultural health (creative community)


9.       Examples of appropriate tech developments?

          a.       Revolution in modern electronics

          b.       Miniaturization of technologies

          c.       Emerging solar and wind techs

          d.       Improved organic agricultural technologies

          e.       Hybrid (gas/electric) cars



11.     One: Resolving interpersonal conflicts

          a.       Technophilia:

                    i.        Try to control other through use of tech

                    ii.       Warfare; use modern techs that could destroy both sides; This tech power undermined original rationale for war

          b.       Appro tech: Aikido

                    i.        Japanese art of self defense, using locks and holds and principles of nonresistance to cause an opponent’s own momentum to work against him

                    ii.       No aggression/competition

                    iii.      Resolve conflict before progress to fighting

                    iv.      Instead of trying to manipulate and control others via tech, it resolves conflicts via self-mastery, self-correction and understanding

12.     Two: Alpine hiking

          a.       Technophilia hiker: Loaded with every conceivable outdoor device of modern tech and using it all; weekend pack weighs 100 pounds, uses tech to have a “comfortable camp”; lots of nailing, chopping and building; loads gear up every morning after flipping pancakes on fancy griddle

                    i.        Equipment isolates from nature

          b.       Appropriate tech hiker: travels light, though does not live off of wilderness (living off roots or berries); there to celebrate joy of being alive and know nature in intimate way; listens to softer voices in world and deeper voices in herself

                    i.        Equipment is simple, light, durable, minimally polluting, harmless to produce and use

                    ii.       Comfortable but not isolated from nature; rain not enemy

                    iii.      Eats simple food, breakfast of homemade granola, minimal cooking, but nutritious and aesthetically satisfying

                    iv.      Equipment is a minimal intrusion which enhances enjoyment of natural world


13.     Different approaches to natural world of technophilia and appropriate tech

          a.       Technophilia:

                    i.        Tech used as a means to control nature and other humans

                    ii.       Sees nature as having only instrumental value

                    iii.      Impose our values on the world

                    iv.      Manipulate and control the other

                    v.       E.g., industrial agriculture? (Poison bad bugs)

          b.       Appropriate tech: Applies tech to nature in way that respects its intrinsic values

                    i.        Work with nature, instead of imposing powerful tech on nature trying to master and overwhelm it

                    ii.       To achieve goals in use of nature, blends tech and eco processes

                    iii.      E.g., organic agriculture (Leave hedge rows so beneficial insects can control troublesome bugs)

                    iv.      Sees values in the world; Wonder, delight, compassion

                    v.       Wants to understand world and appreciate it, so humans can interact with it to realize maximum reciprocal benefits

                              (1)     How is our tech to benefit nature?

                    vi.      E.g., techs that allow us greater appreciation of nature


14.     Three: Generation and use of energy

          a.       Technocratic approach: Nuclear power

                    i.        Highly capitalized, subsidized and centralized tech, difficult security problems, thermo pollution of rivers

                    ii.       Environmentally, economically, thermo unsound

          b.       Appro tech: diversify and decentralize use and production of energy

                    i.        Don’t use vast power grid

                    ii.       Variety of small scale photovoltaic, hydroelectric and solar tech                                                                 

                    iii.      Cogeneration and conservation within communities

                    iv.      Local communities more control over future; more public participation, instead of large scale bureaucracies

                    v.       Take advantages of natural sources of energy locally available


Study Questions, Drengson’s Four Philosophies of Technology

1.       Briefly explain the four views of technology that Drengson discusses (in “Four Philosophies of Technology”). What is the psychological metaphor he uses in his discussion and how does it support the view of technology he embraces? (I.e., explain the analogy between stages to technological maturity and stages in maturity of one’s love life.)

2.       What is the relation between technological anarchy and government regulation of the market?

3.       Which stage of technological development involves identifying with technology and how is this illustrated by the automobile, according to Drengson?

4.       What is the reaction to (and next maturation stage after) technophilia and does Drengson think it healthy or not? In what ways is it healthy and in what ways not?

5.       Identify and characterize the last stage in technological maturation as Drengson sees it. Is this a helpful characterization of how we should relate to technology?

6.       What are some of the design requirements for appropriate technology?

7.       What is Drengson’s view about appropriate hiking technology as to technophilia approach to hiking?

8.       Consider agriculture’s relation to nature and how appropriate technology and technophilia would approach it.

9.       What does Drengson think appropriate and inappropriate energy generation involves?