The Truth About Technology

Some memories have a way of being stored in the brain under the same category. Taking a stroll down memory lane, one will tend to see side streets diverging with names such as “pubescent me” or “mom tips.” I happen to have a particular street labeled as “the pompous interlocutor:” the person who, at dinner parties, seems to come up with an incredibly bland or popular-mechanics sort of answer to anything that requires deep thought. And so I can picture this pompous interlocutor replying to a question such as “what is technology” with an all too boring answer such as “why, it’s a tool, silly!”

Well, I’d like to think about technology because it is not merely a tool. See, my hammer doesn’t really have the same characteristics as the internet or my smartphone. It would surprise you, perhaps, to learn that I classify many things as technologies that you would not conceive of being called that way. Would you, for instance, classify language as a technology? If so, is language a tool? If it is a tool, then it is one which is of inordinate importance for it seems that complex thinking, the most elemental of human activities, seems to be impossible without language.

The first time I came across this question was when I read Heidegger. The sensorial experience of reading Heidegger to me comes with the taste of beer, the heat of a Texan summer and the weight of an inexpensive paperback, fleeting images stored in my memory as “undergrad experience.” But the notions that reading Heidegger inspired have lasted over ten years and are stored as “life-changing experiences.”

I described (and I apologize for I did a terrible job at that) last week Aristotle’s four causes. Heidegger relies upon that concept to explore what technology is and his answer is surprising. Heidegger says that technology is a constant stream of revealing the truth, a way that is always present in our activities and which reveals to us forms of existence that would otherwise remain hidden. We are, in a sense, chained to technology and cannot escape it. Technology is a way of being, not a tool.

If we think of ourselves as having parts, we could at least come up with two kinds of parts: our bodies and our minds. Within the latter we have another sub-division: the intellect and the will. If technology is a way in which we reveal the truth to ourselves about the world, then we are concerned with the mind and the will. To be engaged in understanding the truth has implications that are far reaching and impact our ethics, morals, work, and endless other human activities. It implies that, at every waking moment, we decide whether we want to look at the world in one way or another, always making tradeoffs.

In the next post, I will explore further what Heidegger says and what these tradeoffs are, so that we can further engage with them and come to terms with the existence we have been given.

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