Beyond Technology

Abstract: This article discusses the place of technology in society and takes technology off the pedestal where many people put it. The article does not oppose technology out of environmental concerns. In fact, the article argues that terms such as nature and the environment share common problems with the term technology. The conclusion is that technology fits in a culture that is out of step with modern times.

A.What is Technology?

What is technology? Most will agree that technology is not tangible by itself, but is embedded in machines, engines, chemical compounds, production processes, etc. What makes all these things work is technology. Technology does not exist on itself, separate from all this. Instead, technology is inextricably embedded in the things that it makes work. Many believe that we now live in a time that is, more than ever, dominated by technology. But technology is in fact an old hat that is beyond the peak of its influence.

Technology came to its peak after the Industrial Revolution had mechanized all kinds of industries. What beforehand was done at home by hand was pushed into huge factories and plants that employed numerous people. The Industrial Age had a focus on urban infrastructure and on technical know-how. A typical product of the Industrial Age is the internal combustion engine that burns fossil fuel. Technology gave one country the edge over another. A country that was more ingenious in manipulating resources and manufacturing products would soon dominate other countries. Scientific instututions were seen as producers of new inventions, new substances and materials and, above all, new weaponry.

These days are more dominated by knowledge, or more generally by information that can be transferred from person to person, or if you like from computer to computer. In today's Infornmation Age the focus is on knowledge that can be taught in education and that can be transferred and sold over telecommunication lines. Computers and the Internet symbolize the Information Age. The focus of scientific institutions has shifted towards studying nature and society in order to accumulate knowledge. Universities have become places that generate, collect, analyze and distribute information. Universities now focus more on education than on research, they even move into consultancy and other commercial activities. Where universities do conduct research, they focus on theoretical scientific research, rather than on applied research. It is left up to commercial laboratories to develop new products, but even such laboratories are more involved in testing and development, than in designing new technologies.

Some regret this shift, this move away from hard science, research and technology, as this shift affects their position of power. Physics and maths once dominated education. These were the places where computers were first introduced. The technocrats, engineers and other staff within these departments had a great influence over the way computers were used at universities. These technocrats and engineers fabricated terms such as bio-engineering, knowledge engineering, search engines that use robots, etc. They promote the term Information Technology in the idle hope that their technocratic world will survive the on-coming Information Age. But they are living in the past. Their world, their culture belongs to past, to the Industrial Age.

B. The Trap of the Box

Education teaches that there are clear lines that divide things. Education likes to put things into a box - if something is not in one box, than by implication it must be in the other box. Give things a name and it looks like you know all about it.

Many concepts work like that. The environment and nature are examples of such boxes - everybody seems to know exactly what it is. But what is the environment? Is it all that surrounds us people? In the old days, the environment was nature. The opposite of nature is what is artificially created by humans, i.e. culture, civilization, from farms to urban infrastructure. Today, we are more surrounded by urban infrastructure than by nature. So what is the environment?

Teachers will be quick in their replies to those with inquiring minds. If students are allowed to ask such questions at all, they can expect a standard reply. Teachers will argue that the environment means the natural environment. As if this suddenly makes things clear. What teachers do, is simply putting things in boxes again. The natural environment, that does not make things clear at all, it simply is a box inside a box. What is nature? Are human beings part of nature? Is the fuel that we put into cars natural or not?

For the dogmatic environmentalist, things are easy. Everything that is fabricated, manufactured, manipulated or otherwise touched by human influence is tainted with something un-natural. But this leaves only pre-historic times as purely natural. It cuts out humans from nature. Dogmatic environmentalism that glorifies nature over human activity is therefore a somewhat suicidal ideology, destroying its very creators and in the act also destroying itself.

The trap of boxes is that it looks as if things clearly are in one box or the other. The trap is that one may make quick decision based on false first impressions. The trap is that the use of boxes makes it easier to draw conclusions, but in hindsight the use of boxes is nonsense that obscure any insight.

C. The Technology Box

So what again is technology? Technology is seen as something that is separate from human beings. Technology can be embedded in things. But a person does not have technology in him or her (except for something like a pacemaker). What humans may carry with them is skills, know-how and knowledge, but not technology. The term technology is a box that suffers from all the above-described problems. By using the technology box, people cut themselves out of the picture, as if technology exists independent from human beings. The term technology has the same weakness as terms like nature and the environment, they all picture something that is supposed to exist separate from human beings. They all create the false images of robots that plan to rule the world and want to destroy humanity in the process. Many of the most successful movies are based on such a false plot.

In the past, technology has been liberating in that it has enabled common people to defeat kings, priests, wizards and sorcerers that claimed to have special powers based on some obscure privilege granted to them by gods and fate. Technology in the hands of a child can dethrone the most powerful magician. But technology itself should not be put on a similar pedestal.

Now it is time to recognize technology as a box that has gone past its use by date. Words such as technology, plants, production processes, power, engines and mechanics fit into a certain culture, the culture of the Industrial Age. In this culture, people had little value, they were regarded and treated as laborers, soldiers, nurses, etc, not as individuals. At best, people were seen as somewhat imperfect wheels that needed ongoing discipline in order to fulfill a useful role in a society supposed to go like clockwork, like a well-oiled machine.

D. The Box exposed

In the current Information Age, it has become clear that information is more valuable than technology. Performance of technology continues to increase while prices go down. Globalization and competition make it easier to acquire technology. As a result, developments are driven more by content than technology. This reverses Marshall McLuhan slogan the medium is the message. It is no longer the medium that is the message, rather content is king and whatever medium carries the content is increasingly irrelevant.

Of course, terminology such as content, carrier and medium remains part of this old, disappearing culture. Media and carriers are merely boxes that politicians and technocrats regard as convenient in their lust for status and power over society. The term content follows as a supplementary box.

As the Information Age comes to an end, Marshall McLuhan's views do get another meaning. According to McLuhan, the media are extensions of our minds, much like tools such as a hammer and a spade are extensions of our hands. But more than mere extensions, one's presence on the Internet already is as much part of oneself as one's arm or one's leg. The distinctions between living organisms and technology will lose their relevance. Moreover, future times will expose such distinctions as deceitful boxes. Those who like to remain stuck in the past will picture one's presence on the Internet as an artificial and fabricated reality. But future times will reject such boxes and borders as smokescreens of the politicians and technocrats of the past.

For greater prosperity of all, it is important that talents can develop and that creativity is encouraged. The Information Age makes it ever easier for people to express their dreams, yet few people dare to follow their own dreams, society has little appreciation for people who have their own ideas. It will take a giant cultural shift to change this, but change is clearly on its way. One of the best predictions of such a change is DonParagon's Vision of the Future.

E. Vision of the Future

DonParagon argues that we are now experiencing a Mobile Revolution that will result in the collapse of the institution of the government. DonParagon does not foresee a revolution that is physically violent, but rather a cultural change that takes place in the hearts and minds of people and that will open up opportunities for those who can improvise and are creative. Many people and institutions will refuse to break with the past, but they will lose their positions of power and their opposition to such change will become futile. The government will emerge out of this change as an impotent anachronism that has become irrelevant in regard to the lives of most people, just like the monarchy now is only a symbolic institution in those countries that still have kings and queens.

In future times, people will make personal contacts and exercise influence as individuals, rather than on the basis of academic and occupational titles. They will not look at developments as if they are driven by technology. Instead, people will be aware of their own personal impact, on the opportunities they have to influence developments, on their voluntary participation in events. Success will be measured in terms of appreciation, rather than be determined by numbers on a bank account. The most prominent ideology in future times, if you like the most influencial ideology, will be optionality.

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