TECHNOLOGY AND THE REST OF CULTURE / Vol. 64, No. 3 (Fall 1997)
Arien Mack, Editor
The papers in this special issue are all versions of presentations given at the conference on Technology and the rest of Culture held at the New School in January of 1997. Its title is meant to call attention to the idea that technology is not something separate from the rest of our culture--and as long as we fail to acknowledge this we will continue to endow it with agency and autonomy, which in turn will have profound, often unintended, moral, and political consequences.
The papers in this special issue are all versions of presentations given at the conference on Technology and the Rest of Culture held at The New School in January 1997. The conference was the fifth in a continuing series of Social Research conferences that began in 1989, all of the proceedings of which have appeared as special issues of this journal.
The article focuses on the social contexts of technology in modern society. Technology has a central--but preponderantly facilitative rather than initiating--role in sustaining a historically unprecedented standard of living that most people have come to take for granted. It will be no less vital in attaining that standard, and making further improvements in it, for all humankind. Largely because technological innovation is tied to complex, expensive production processes and marketing uncertainties, it moves at a slower, more cautiously incremental pace than scientific discovery.
This article focuses on the hazardous nature of the concept of technology to the moral and political cogency of thought. By the 1840s, some of the changes that contributed to the emergence of the concept of technology were becoming apparent. They may be divided into two large categories, ideological and substantive: first, changes in the prevailing ideas about the mechanic arts, and second, changes in the organizational and material matrix of the mechanic arts. All of these ideological purposes, and more, were served by the relatively abstract, indeterminate, neutral, synthetic-sounding term "technology."
This article deals with the effects of technology on human labor. For most people who think about the role of technological change in human well-being, such conflicts count for little. What the conventional view lacks, however, is any notion of technological development understood as a complex social, cultural, and political phenomenon. This is not an obscure or mysterious topic. Every thoroughgoing history of technological system-building points to the same conclusion, namely that technical innovations of any substantial extent involve a reweaving of the fabric of society, a reshaping of some of the roles, rules, and relationships that comprise the people's ways of living together.
The article discusses the effects of the use of information technology on culture. Is this culture received through inheritance, or upbringing? They do talk about generations out there, but they are not the traditional ones. Cyberspace's generations outpace biology by a wide margin. People out there think in terms of Moore's Law: every year and a half, the number of components on a chip doubles, and a new product generation emerges. There is more to the technology story than the growth of its parts. Today's spectacular progress in individual technologies merely represents the tip of the iceberg. Throughout modem history, the most significant impacts of technology have come from its combinations.
This article focuses on inventions behind the progress of telecommunication. Technologies are social constructions. Machines are not like meteors that come unbidden from outside and have an impact. Rather, human beings make many choices when inventing, marketing, and using a new device. The telephone and telegraph, the early forms of networked communication, provide an essential background for understanding the computer network. While the computer network is still in rapid evolution, once again technological Utopians are claiming that both a freer market and universal understanding are at hand.
Print culture no longer monopolizes modern communications and now shares the stage with a bewildering variety of new media. Nevertheless, the printed word has not been superseded. To understand the chaotic state of contemporary culture, we have to take into account the unsettling effects of new communications technologies. But this should not distract us from also acknowledging the continuing, every-cumulative effects of the printing press, a double invention that is now five hundred years old.
No technology is, has been, or will be a natural force. Who is using the Internet? Governments, universities, international corporations, hackers, criminals, the CIA, and millions of individuals. The world they create with it will be no better than they are. The brave new world of the Internet will contain innovative ways to shop, learn, and communicate, but it will also contain new forms of power, fraud, misrepresentation, surveillance, and social control.
This article explores the relationship between artificial intelligence and the human mind. Artificial intelligence (Al) first declared itself a discipline in the mid-1950s. From its earliest days the field was divided into two camps, each supporting a very different idea of how machine intelligence might be achieved. One group considered intelligence to be entirely formal and logical and pinned its hopes on giving computers detailed rules they could follow. The other envisioned machines whose underlying mathematical structures would allow them to learn from experience.
The three papers in this section address the relationship between technology and a special kind of thinking: science. If theory can be considered head and technology hands, then these papers have in common with their emphasis on how much of scientific thinking too is done with the hands. Indeed they make it clear how far -to a surprising degree- in the history of science the theorizing head has tended to be the pupil rather than the master of the working hands.
The article discusses the influence of technology and culture on human behavior. During evolution, the brains accumulated hundreds of different mechanisms, each of which serves in particular ways to protect people from certain kinds of harm. That survival instinct idea makes it harder for people to see why all those different protective effects could come from natural selection. When a culture can not change what people do not like, its thinkers find ways to change how they think. A good way to do this is making up myths. Thus, culture and science-technology, albeit in their different ways, both help people try to make sense of things. Science keeps testing and growing and learning.
The article deals with the development of laboratories in relation to technological innovations. In all too many realms of the history of technology and science, historians have reenacted the social relations of the disciplines about which they write. For many years, scientists looked down on engineers as merely applying their more fundamental, basic, central, high-level, and abstract work. This view was canonized in philosophical, historical, and scientific literature that raised the higher social station of pure science to an epistemic priority. Returning now to the problem of writing a history of the borderland between science and technology, it seems clear that a certain battle has been won.
Technology is the use of scientific knowledge and insight to make things or practice processes that are inspired by someone's practical advantage. Scientists cannot help stumbling onto technical innovations,and often justify investment in their work by the promise that innovations will follow. And technical praxis may be the means of corroborating the objective utility of a scientific generalization, carrying it beyond the domain of social construction of the truth. On the other hand, praxis often uncovers limitations in scientific understanding.
This section on political life is broadly devoted to a consideration of how shifts in the means and terms of communication affect democracy, free expression, and the law. Alan Ryan revisits old themes in liberal discourse and theory, especially theories about the limited capacities and character of mass opinion. He worries thoughtfully about how technology is misshapen by commercial pressures and decisions about its use.
The article investigates possible advantages and disadvantages that can be brought about by the Internet and other modern forms of communications. Even at the level of doing good things for individuals who discover that they have friends in cyberspace, it is a mixed phenomenon. The thought that e-mail chatter and postings to lists allow people to explore their personalities and perhaps acquire new identities is largely misguided. The idea that it is the growth of modern technology, and the technology of communication in particular, that is decisive in forming opinion surfaced intermittently, but it never became the leading view. This paper is in essence a footnote to such anxieties.
This article deals with the assimilation of new technologies into the constitutional doctrines of the US. The main case is Katz v. United States. The constitutional problem was conceptualized in Katz as a Fourth Amendment search and seizure issue, not a First Amendment free speech issue, but the implications of electronic wiretapping for free expression are clear enough to justify this example here. But, in fact, more was going on in the Katz case than simply applying settled constitutional principles to a new technology. To the extent that cyberspace promises more direct democracy--more direct input by the people unfiltered by their representatives--that too could be a serious problem.
This section offers a more particular and more ominous set of insights into the relationship between technology and culture. These papers make a similar series of connections: technology as an expression of the imagination; the imagination as the irrational; the irrational as violent, aggressive, and destructive;and therefore technology as violent, aggressive, and destructive. In short, these papers repudiate the conventional wisdom that technological images and themes express primarily logic, utility, functionality, and rationality.
The article looks at the relationship between technology and philosophy. Is modern technology a subject of philosophical interest? Philosophers can make any subject interesting, and not just to themselves. At its best, their work has a tendency to arrest the habit of taking things for granted, of seeing phenomena as normal or as a matter of course. Philosophy, from Socrates on, is often a challenge to common sense. Capitalism is the example that occupies most of Max Weber's attention in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The role of capitalism in developing technology, and also the role of technology in developing capitalism, may not figure with much explicitness in Weber's analysis.
[reprinted in 70th Anniversary issue, Vol. 71 No. 3]
The article focuses on the influence of technology on the development of literature. The development of writing itself, then, particularly as it has been investigated in the past two decades by the late Eric Havelock (1986) and Jesper Svenbro (1993), might be conveniently stipulated as the initial enabling technology. What human technology might be like later on in history is ironically foreshadowed earlier in Paradise Lost, in the somewhat mock-heroic account of the War in Heaven, the failed revolt of Satan's rebel angels. The material for a lot of poetry thus lay in further interpretation, by glossing or by other use, of crafted objects and utensils.
The article deals with the influence of modern machinery, science and industry in modernist painting and sculpture in Europe. Various kinds of primitivism became virtually synonymous with modernism, ranging from techniques in painting, sculpture, and print-making to images of peasants and non-European peoples. Another possible factor in accepting the machine as part of modernity rather than its opponent was the rapid increase of machinery in daily life. Bicycles and automobiles were commonly seen in the first years of the century, so were domestic sewing machines and electric lighting. With the onset of World War I in August, 1914, the machine took on a new and terrifying presence.
This article discusses the contributions of the Internet to democracy in the US. The Internet has shown that both choice of architecture and affordable cost of service are essential to enhancing citizen participation in the democratic process. To be clear, the Internet will neither assure individual participation in democracy, nor will it assure that the final outcome of democratic deliberations is fair and just. The Internet is simply a platform. In sharp contrast, the Internet has opened up new opportunities for grass-roots discourse.
This article deals with the relationship between technology and capitalism. Capitalism is a social formation, to borrow Marx's useful term, with three historically unique features: an all-important dependency on the successful accumulation of capital, a wide-ranging use of a market mechanism and a unique bifurcation of power into two sectors, one public, one private. In so doing they radically alter the meaning and function of technology within capitalism compared with any other social order. Technology thus becomes a sociopolitical force within capitalism, not merely a lever of material change. The reason, of course, is that technological change is the chief source of new areas' profitable accumulation.
This article focuses on the valuation of technology and the technology of valuation in an advanced capitalist society. Two corporations share global leadership in today's age of information technology (IT): Microsoft and Intel. Neither company has benefited in any discernibly direct way from the financial or regulatory subvention of the state. On the contrary, Microsoft and Intel and the generation of IT innovators that have risen with the distribution of computing power since the early 1980s have committed themselves to living by and, often, dying by the sword of unconstrained competition.
This article focuses on the relationship between the transformations brought about by high technology and the victory of liberal over totalitarian modes of political thought. There is something of an elective affinity between liberal political thought and the fragmentation, discontinuity, eclecticism, and ephemerality characteristic of an epoch defined by flexible technologies. Liberalism, after all, has valued and sought to sustain open societies and the free exchange of information and views.