A digression into the linguistic history of technology and Technik is in order. (This history was masterfully retold by Eric Schatzberg in a couple of academic papers that Kelly seems to have missed.) For much of the nineteenth century, the English word “technology,” just like the French and German “technologie,” denoted a branch of knowledge—a science—that studied industrial arts and crafts; “technology” did not refer to those arts and crafts themselves, as it does today. Technology was much like chemistry: it was a field of study, not its object. It was in nineteenth-century Germany, which was undergoing massive industrialization, that intellectuals and engineers alike began using another term—Technik—to describe all the arts of material production, conceived now as a coherent whole. Technik was increasingly invoked in opposition to Kultur, with many German humanist intellectuals of the time being highly critical of the growing mechanization and dehumanization that pervaded the industrialized society.
In the early years of the twentieth century, the German debate about Technik made its way into America, when Thorstein Veblen discovered some of the key German texts and incorporated them into his own thought. But Veblen chose to translate the German Technik as “technology,” most likely because by that time the English word “technique,” the more obvious rendering, had already acquired its modern meaning. To his credit, Veblen’s “technology” preserved most of the critical dimensions of Technik as used by German thinkers; and he masterfully located it within contemporary debates about capitalism and technocracy. Other American intellectuals, while following Veblen in using “technology” to mean Technik, soon dropped this critical dimension, settling on a more politically correct and progress-friendly meaning of “technology.” When, in 1926, Charles Beard famously proclaimed that “technology marches in seven- league boots from one ruthless, revolutionary conquest to another,” he gave the term “technology” its modern meaning, severing Veblen’s connection to the critical theories of Georg Simmel and Werner Sombart. At the same time, the Technik vs. Kultur debate in Europe continued, with Martin Heidegger, Ernst Jünger, Hans Jonas, and Jacques Ellul producing penetrating critiques of how Western society had become dominated by Technik/technique and was therefore losing its moral bearings. Most of these thinkers posited the growing autonomy of technology—including the self-reinforcing behavior of the system that Kelly emphasizes—and they found this prospect terrifying.
☛ The New Republic: “e-Salvation” by Evgeny Morozov, March 3d, 2011
This is an excerpt of Morozov’s review of Kevin Kelly’s new book What Technology Wants (Kevin Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired magazine). Morozov’s offers an incisive and well articulated evaluation of Kelly’s claim of introducing “a brand-new view of technology”.
About Evgeny Morozov:
Evgeny Morozov is the author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (out in January 2011). He is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy and runs the magazine’s “Net Effect” blog about the Internet’s impact on global politics (neteffect.foreignpolicy.com). Morozov is currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation. He was formerly a Yahoo! fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and a fellow at George Soros’s Open Society Institute, where he remains on the board of the Information Program. (About)
First spotted via Alexis Madrigal’s blog (hosted by The Atlantic website). While there, take the time to read Kevin Kelly’s response to Morozov.
I mentioned Evgeny Morozov’s book on this blog before: Egypt and Internet: some caution (Jan. 31, 2011)
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