4.0386 On Technology (2/58)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 14 Aug 90 13:26:04 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0386. Tuesday, 14 Aug 1990.

(1) Date: Sat, 11 Aug 90 12:39:27 EDT (17 lines)
From: TEBRAKE@MAINE (William H. TeBrake)
Subject: The garden path

(2) Date: Fri, 10 Aug 90 10:28:24 MDT (41 lines)
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: Re: 4.0378 Responses: On Technology ...

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sat, 11 Aug 90 12:39:27 EDT
From: TEBRAKE@MAINE (William H. TeBrake)
Subject: The garden path

The exchange between Skip Knox and Willard McCarthy concerning
technology's role in bringing humans to perdition reminds me of
an incident I read about some time ago -- sorry, I can be no more
specific than to say I believe I read it in one of Lewis Mumford's
books. In any case, the managers of a nuclear power plant, somewhere
in England as I recall, had attempted to foresee all possible
problems that might occur, including an automatic alerting of others
should an operator be asleep at the switch by dialing a certain
telephone number. When something did go wrong, the computer dutifully
dialed the number for help; another computer answered and dutifully
informed the first computer that the number had been changed.
Fortunately the operator was only dozing and not sleeping and was able
to take the steps necessary to avert a disaster.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------50----
Date: Fri, 10 Aug 90 10:28:24 MDT
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: Re: 4.0378 Responses: On Technology; Wittgenstein/Poetry

Willard cites some interesting examples of the insidious effects of
technology, all of which are satisfyingly old {small smile}. Where he
sees an effect of technology, though, I see a manifestation of human

The invention of the wheel made possible the metaphor of the wheel of
fortune. Well and good. And the invention of scales made possible the
image of Justice. But humans will find physical expressions of their
hopes and fears, using Nature where Machines will not do. The
technology itself did not _cause_ anything. Rather, humans chose the
technology. And other humans, weak as we are, interpreted the symbols
too literally, surrendering the fierce heat of choice for the cool shade
of obedience.

This all seems like simple human nature. Let me offer another example,
from the Renaissance (gee, I hope it's not too modern!): printing. When
the printing presses really caught on, toward the end of the 15th
century, many was the scribe who bemoaned the dehumanizing effect (a
modern phrase, that) of the new machines. Books, they argued, should
not be stamped out but written out. Printed books were ugly. Only the
human hand could have the properly sympathy for the human word.

They were wrong, of course. Those at the time could barely discern the
true effect of the mass production of literature and knowledge, and could
scarcely imagine the political, social and economic effects of that. The
world of the scholar was forever changed by the printing press. Would
anyone care to argue the change was for the worse?

-= Skip =-

Ellis 'Skip' Knox, Ph.D.
Historian, Data Center Associate
1910 University Drive BITNET: DUSKNOX@IDBSU
Boise, Idaho 83725
(208) 385-1315