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Technology as a Medium - a constructivist Concept of Technology

Vortrag beim Russischen Kongreß für Philosophie, Jekatarienburg, 15.-18. Juni 1999


In the face of the development of modern high technology (nuclear technology, bio technology and information technology), the question arises whether one could or should retain the traditional concept of technology. This is significant to the extent that it is precisely concepts that control what one may observe and what one may not observe.

The traditional concept of technology was fuelled largely by two important guiding distinctions: nature/technology and mankind/technology.

Both viewpoints are based on the assumption of the existence of a subject situated outside technological relationships, which exploits the technology without itself belonging to the technology structure. It is then postulated that mankind should not let its self comprehension be determined by technology or let itself be overwhelmed by technology (Hans Jonas).

If one does not orient oneself exclusively towards the end-means or machine model for the interpretation of technology, a completely different achievement of technology comes into focus, which could be regarded as more significant from the evolutionary viewpoint. Technology is formal operation lacking reference to a purpose in daily life (Edmund Husserl). The abstraction from a running co-execution of all concrete implications for purpose permits enormous acceleration of societal communication. On the one hand this is linked with an increase in the contingency of all completions of action, on the other hand a relief from concrete social relations. An increase in contingency to the extent that opportunities for action are increased by the application of technology, relief to the extent that technological action is no longer dependent on social consensus but only on functioning. Reduced to its principle, technology is the strict linkage of causal elements with a high degree of indifference towards everything else. Its advantages lie in the repeatability of execution neglecting concrete social relationships, in the predictability of the resources required for its operation, in the visibility of disruptions with the possibility of remove these by means of repair or replacement.

A society which in its significant components has made itself dependent on the functioning of technology , produces ecological dangers precisely because the technology functions.

It is true that the undesired and unintended side-effects of the application of technology, if sufficiently well-known, can be regarded as problems which can be solved more or less by technology, but this merely means that these secondary or control technologies can themselves create ecological problems. The application of technology on itself as a circular process is what is new about current technology and cannot be regulated by fleeing into nature beyond technology or by achieving a sensible consensus. Thus technology is evolutionary events.

Gotthard Bechmann
Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe
Institut für Technikfolgenabschätzung
und Systemanalyse (ITAS)
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