Making sense of Questioning Technology
by Andrew Feenberg
This book is an introduction to the philosophy of technology. While I am a novice student of philosophy I was asked to think about this in the fall of 2008 and in response I co-created a Google Group with Barb Brown. I continue to have some struggles of my own as I adjust and navigate my way through this new territory. After looking at the topic with a rather wide lens I felt it was important for me to focus more deeply on what Andrew Feenberg had to say. He gives us a brief account of the growth of interest in technology. As a culture in the 20th century we became familiar with the notion of technology having an autonomous force separate from society. Two very separate camps began to form. Some took a rather pessimistic view and became concerned that technology seemed to have a life of it's own and would somehow run out of our control. I believe this notion lead people to write to stories of caution such as “2001 a Space Odyssey” and Martin Heidegger to write his essay on the question concerning technology. (I have read this essay but will write about it later.) While at the same time there was a push in our democratic society to expand our use of technology in our homes, schools and businesses. In both camps technology has been tied to the notion of progress.
Feenberg suggests that in the past our culture has looked upon the technical and the social as separate domains but that the fate of future democracy depends on us bridging the two. And that the fate of democracy is bound up with our understanding of technology. He feels that we need to challenge a essentialist philosophy of technology. The belief that technology has a set of characteristics that make what it is and reduces it to how it functions and its raw materials. This philosophy views technology as an instrument for efficiency.
I have just begun the first chapter entitled Technology, Philosophy, Politics. He begins by mapping out the territory of the philosophy of technology. Over time we have paid little attention to technology due largely to the technical being viewed as secondary to more intellectual pursues. In addition with the neutral notion of technology being an instrument society didn't really require and explanation or justification of it.
The other side of this map indicates the promise of technology. It is rooted in this idea of efficiency and carries with it a gift from the tradition of the scientific method. It is progressivism or rather technological determinism.
In opposition to this is a substance theory of technology, a protest against mechanization. In this view technology is not neutral and its spread is fearful. Potentially technological development transforms what it is to be human.
He mentions Langdon Winner and Carl Mitcham as further explanation of this thinking.