4.0391 Technology, Etc. (3/74)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 16 Aug 90 17:42:37 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0391. Thursday, 16 Aug 1990.

(1) Date: Thu, 16 Aug 90 07:52 CST (16 lines)
From: Judy Boss <ENG003@UNOMA1>
Subject: RE: 4.0386 On Technology

(2) Date: 16 August 1990, 15:39:04 EDT (11 lines)
From: Roy Flannagan <FLANNAGA at OUACCVMB>
Subject: the garden path to better technology

(3) Date: Tue, 14 Aug 90 18:55:33 EDT (47 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: technological imaginings

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 16 Aug 90 07:52 CST
From: <ENG003@UNOMA1>
Subject: RE: 4.0386 On Technology (2/58)

Just as a bit of devil's advocacy, I'd like to remind Skip that the
printing press has also brought us the "junk mail" phenomenon, Harlequin
Romances and their ilk, mass pornography, the daily newspaper even when
no news occurs, and the "publish or perish" credentialism of
scholarship. Surely, these are not among the improvements he ascribes
to the technology?

Judy Boss
Department of English
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Omaha, Nebraska 68182
BITNET: eng003@unoma1
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------16----
Date: 16 August 1990, 15:39:04 EDT
Subject: the garden path to better technology

After that Faustian invention, moveable type, began changing the society
of western Europe, the first big change in printing, as I remember it,
was the movement away from blinding black-letter type to some absolutely
beautiful and irreplaceable type-faces, many of which are still in use
today, so perhaps there is some hope in technological leaps--though I
still wish Henry Ford had chosen alcohol, natural gas or hydrogen over
petroleum. Roy Flannagan
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------57----
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 90 18:55:33 EDT
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: technological imaginings

One of the strengths of Ursula Franklin's argument is that she
identifies technology as a way of living and thinking, not a bunch of
gadgets, and certainly not an autonomous inhuman force. I agree
completely with Skip Knox that human nature is the source of the human
problems we have been dealing with, but apparently I haven't been very
clear about the relationship I see between human nature and its
technological expressions. It seems to me that there are two ways of
evading responsibility for what happens to us as a result of the
technological objects and processes we have devised. One is to attribute
to these things autonomous power -- the wheel relentlessly turning, the
conveyor-belt moving from worker to worker, freeways spreading like a
stringy cancer, and so forth. The other way is to deny the importance of
the problem altogether. What's interesting to me is to avoid both.

Yes, by means of technological thinking we create our machines and
devices; these inevitably mirror our conception of the world and
ourselves, objectify that conception, if you will. I wonder about the
narcissism involved in our fascination with these things. At the best,
they are a means of discovering who we are, what we are thinking about,
and why. At the worst, they tyrannize us because we forget that their
autonomy is partly at least an illusion.

When I was first in graduate school, I had a conversation with one of my
professors about some ideas I had formed while reading Eliot's
Wasteland. At every turn in my struggle to be articulate, this professor
labelled what I had just said as belonging to this or that famous
heresy. I'm sure his intentions were good, but he made it very difficult
for me to think clearly. What I learned from him on that occasion was
how hard it is to deal honestly with an enigma, something that is both
this and that, and neither this nor that. I think the problem of our
relationship to technology is enigmatic, and so presents us with the
struggle to avoid easy, cut-and-dried answers. The answers keep turning
into questions! But doesn't this mean that we're on to something worth
talking about?

I'm not trying to avoid modern examples, really. As I said, let us
consider the Bomb, or more generally the military relationship between
powerful nations insofar as that involves technology. Or how about the
automobile? Or the telephone? Let me here recommend a most fascinating
collection of essays about this very successful, very human technology:
Ithiel de Sola Pool, The Social Impact of the Telephone (MIT Press).

Willard McCarty