Thursday, September 21, 2006

Technology and the Dutch

Well it seems that Amber has blown our cover in the last post -- yes, it is true, we actually work for a powerful lobbying company that represents the interests of farmers' markets around the world. Go organic or go home, I always like to say.

I have been settling into a routine at work --I usually get up around 7 and make the five minute bike ride to work at the Cubicus building at about 8. There is a strange goose that lives a solitary life and wanders around the front door of the building showing very little respect for humans and our bikes and cars...he will aggresively let you know who is boss and I have see him regularly chasing people away for no apparent reason. Because he lives in front of the Cubicus building, Amber has dubbed him "Cubigoose". Anyway, I grab lunch with some colleagues at the little cafeteria downstairs at 12:3o and work away until 5 or 6 (then I come home and Amber usually has a lekker dinner waiting for me, which is good because my lunches usually consist of bread and soup). I work in the department of philosphy, which is very small (maybe 10 or so faculty members) and is the only humanities department on campus. Everyone else is in engineering or applied social sciences like sociology, policy, economics, psychology, etc.

Our department focuses on the philosophy of technology, which is actually an area of study that the Dutch have long dominated. One of my mentors, and one of the founding fathers of philosphy of technology, says that the Dutch are so big in the field because much of their country is an artifact. The Dutch have reclaimed lots of land from the sea and have an elaborate and massive flood control system. They are, in other words, surrounded by technology, so it is little wonder that they would tend to reflect on it.

The philosophy of technology is a relatively new field in terms of being a real academic entity. But its roots go back at least to Marx, who articulated an early version of technological determinism: "The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist." For Marx, the production factors (basically, technology) were all important in shaping society at large. So, his work shows how technology is intimately connected to issues of justice as it shapes working conditions and the opportunities available for the haves and have nots. His work also shows that capitalism and modern technology seem to be natural companions.

Marx of course spawned lots of thinkers (like Hegel before him), some of whom, like Marcuse went on to reflect more on technological society. For Marcuse, modern society is characterized by a technocratic system that rationalizes the lifeworld and diminishes authentic human freedom. His work became very popular in the 1960s countercultural movements, because it helped articulate the nature of "the system" or "the establishment" that many felt was being so oppressive.

Another big figure in the philosophy of technology is Martin Heidegger, who famously argued that "the essence of technology is nothing technological." He meant by this that technology is, at its core, not about instruments for serving our purposes. Rather, technology is something much more - it is in fact our whole way of being in the world. Its essence is what he called "Gestell" or "Enframing," which pictures the world as a standing reserve ready for appropriation.

Our department here at U. Twente is making a name for itself by practicing a new approach to the philosphy of technology. Many of the philosophers in my department argue that talking about Technology (with a capital T) like Marx, Marcuse, and Heidegger is too abstract and leads to too much dystopic (negative) thinking. Rather, they argue that we ought to turn "to the things themselves" (to quote Husserl) and talk about individual technologies in particular contexts and how they influence the way we act and interpret our world - how they mediate our existence in concrete ways. This could be called the "empirical turn," but of course it is all a matter of debate.

Anyway that is some news from my world - Amber found CSI on tv, so I am going to sign off and watch that with her. Tot ziens.


roni said...

Hi there,

That was a good lesson, Adam! IT looks like you guys are doing great there! I remembered when I first moved to the US (without Andrew), the reality did not sink in until at least three month later. I would be sleeping in my room in the graduate student dorm, and woke up by someone talking outside of my window and realizing that I was indeed in America! I am not sure if that is happening to you guys or not...

I have a good friend in Taiwan is working on the "history of technology" (or cyber technology to be more précised), and we always have great conversation. It is always refreshing to talk about a subject from the othersize of the object.

Great job on the blog! I haven't updated mine for a lonnng time...


Bob said...

Dank U wel for the run down Adam. Now, alstublieft, can you explain Hegel in as few words? Heh heh. Too bad about the bike ride Friday. See you soon. Dad

teresa said...

the goose reminds me of those killer wild turkeys that roam the St. John's Woods and chase down the poor skinny cross country runners. did you ever get attacked by a gaggle of turkeys?