On technology

October 2, 2021 by Lucian Mogosanu

I'm not sure how obvious this is, so I'll just put it out in the open: my interest in technology has gone through a sharp decline in the past few years.

The low activity in The Tar Pit's (by far) most prolific category of computing is but one example of this decline. No, nine months did not "just pass by" without any input from me on the subject; but on the contrary, the choice was quite deliberate. No, it's not like "there's nothing left to be written" on either computing in particular or technology in general; regardless, I don't have much to say, and most certainly not for the lack of knowledge on the subject; if anything, I got fed up with it and decided to leave this "talking about things related to technology" thing for some future time, if ever.

It's not that I've left technology behind altogether either; on the contrary, I spend plenty of time on a daily basis exploring the innards of computing systems -- and all the related technologies, since "computation", however prevalent in nature, makes no sense outside of a consistent context. However, I have realized quite a while ago that I, a simple bipedal monkey after all, do not need technology in order to live a good life; and that said technology is an impediment as much as it is a help, if not more. I don't need a computer -- hell, I don't need electricity in order to keep a blog, much like I don't need an "internet" in order to talk to other people. Which doesn't mean that I no longer enjoy computing as I have learned it, that is, as an exponent of techne, or of art if you will. As a matter of fact, I arrived here from a review of ye olde Disk Operating System, which in turn led me to review Martin Heidegger's notes on technology, which then led me straight into the midst of technology as a whole.

I'm not much of a philosopher and thus I am not attempting to seek the essence of the phenomenon called technology, as Heidegger does in his Die Frage nach der Technik. In other words, I am not interested to determine whether what I seek is an (or the) essence in the metaphysical sense, although I strongly suspect that the answer, or part of it, does indeed lie in the realm of metaphysics. I am going to leave this part to thinkers greater than I, and if my commentary serves them in any way, then all the better.

More precisely, I am interested in arriving at the nature of man's relationship with technology. I am not exactly concerned with why exactly humans employ "means to ends" in this way either, whether the ends in question involve survival, comfort or outright replacing oneself with pieces of machinery. I simply don't find the question interesting, as humans are not in any way exceptional in this respect; a testament to this is the birds' nest above my balcony, which is about as much of a shelter as my own, despite the lack of certain means and ends which the birds in question don't need. Rather, I am interested for example in finding out in what exact manner kids grow up surrounded by technology as opposed to growing up without it, and how such humans, grown up technologically, handle a potential breakdown of their technological environment. But more generally, I am interested in how humans and technology alter each other as a result of their inextricably intertwined evolution and what lies at the basis of both the intertwining and the evolution.

For example I observe in my (perhaps rudimentary) understanding of Heidegger's work that he relates the unthought and the thought-provoking with the technological revealing, in both its constructive and destructive aspects. While in an earlier essay1 he discusses Nietzsche's famous statement "about God" and more precisely the rise of nihilism in the Western world. Yet nowhere in his later work do I find him drawing from his earlier observations about Nietzsche's work, which I find somewhat odd, but... as I said, perhaps I have but a rudimentary understanding of these things.

In any case, it seems to me that the coincidence between this so-called "death of belief" and the rise of technology is no mere coincidence and by Heidegger's time, the "revaluation of all values" was in large part fulfilled2, possibly along with the end of World War II. Following that, human evolution largely... pertained to the technological, since it's hard to call postmodernism and its aftercurrents anything other than an exercise in driving one's head into a dead end. Furthermore, I do not believe that belief simply removed itself from the human condition, as Heidegger seems to pose, but rather that it shifted... towards technology, and more generally towards the material. This phenomenon I cannot quite explain to myself at the moment, although I can see it, either way I shall not dive into it other than by way of example. And in this realm a first example is none other than money, which at least in the past few decades has disguised itself into value itself. Money is indeed but an abstract, a system of representation of value, the big problem being however that the things themselves which have been and are used as money so far are closely related to the material3. In any case, I have strong reason to believe that "the murder of Gods" is naught but a (re)transition deeply into the material that I cannot really explain, but coming quite possibly from a primal place within the bipedal monkey.

In other words, since I've been mentioning post-religion more often than I can remember: technology is an expression of man's material god, and its realization -- the best that man has achieved thus far in this realm in known history. It is perhaps a largely misguided attempt, or perhaps it will endure in some form or another4; as far as history can be of help, the pendulum has always swung back "the other" way, although which way exactly, it remains to be seen -- either way, this is not the place to judge such things.

Whatever else technological is there simply cannot be decoupled from the material, e.g. the YouTube star du jour cannot be decoupled from YouTube, which is further coupled to the web, coupled to the internet, coupled to computing and so on and so forth down to the finest material movers there are. And let us take a moment to further expand on the meaning of "material", tying into footnote 3 below: if it consumes energy, it is by definition "coupled to the material" -- thus, if I keep my blog on a piece of paper, it is less coupled to the material than a Facebook page or whatever, in the sense that it is dependent on less energy to be maintained.

I must inevitably dwell on the meaning of God here, as some might be inclined to accuse me of attempting to draw the reader down the path of metaphysical confusion. Indeed, God is here the prime cause, or if you will to take a simpler definition, a god is simply: something to be worshipped. Do you see how this ties into Heidegger's Enframing? If you're spending ten hours each day working for corporate, then not only are you "standing reserve", but you are also a faithful servant of god. I repeat myself, but: if you're a "fan" of something, then you are worshipping one in the vastest panoply of gods known to man. I'm pretty sure this agrees with some interpretations of the Bible's "thou shalt have no other gods before me", it remains a question whether you reject this particular interpretation out of conviction or out of convenience. Either way, the fact that this view entirely destroys secularism as a denial of religion will irk some people all the way down to their bones.

Of course, there is nothing supernatural about this material god that I mention here. There is however a similar sectioning between, say, the Star Trek ideal as separate from reality. Although the essence of (post-)religion does not pertain to any "supernatural" mumbo-jumbo, it does indeed pertain to Eliade's sacred. If you're not willing to give up Facebook, then it's not I who's an "anti-platform fanatic", it's you who has become to view it as an integral part of reality5 and then to dedicate your already limited time to it. This is worship at its finest; you're not worshipping Zuckerberg; you're not worshipping the Facebook logo, although it does have deep roots within your psyche; you are worshipping the machine though, and much like Nietzsche's God, there would be none in your absence from there.

Let us consider Heidegger's discussion of "a danger beyond any danger that man otherwise knows": what could be more dangerous than attempting to create and at the same time become God? What more literal meaning can the expression "the world at the tip of a finger" have, when the tip of one's finger has a button specially created just for it?

Next, the astute reader will circle back to the observation that the material "standing reserve" is also finite, which entails physical limits on the "all-"integration, which in practice will result in a... fractured experience of this god. The button is not accessible just to everyone's finger, or rather, everyone's finger has access to a different button, an observation that quickly becomes the subject of many political debates which have no place here.

Humans' understanding of the universe is ever-limited and perhaps this religion thing is just the manifestation of an inescapable ceiling, or an ever-hidden thought, or in any case, something which endures regardless of where man stands between the material and the poetic. Or, to put it in much simpler words: it's like in the ages of yore, when they were praying to the Sun and the skies and the rain, only you're praying to smartphones and optical cables and electricity and... the list could go on, ad nauseam.

But let us understand each other: there is nothing inherently "good" or "bad" about this whole thing -- the whole thing simply is. For what is a farm of machines connected to the Internet (say, mining coin) other than a contract to obey such and such sacred laws that thusly remain enshrined in the code itself.

  1. I don't speak German past kindergarten level and Romanian philosophers are about as out-of-phase with the rest of the world as the rest of this sad society, so no Romanian translations of Die Frage nach der Technik are to be found anywhere in the public space. Now what does this say about yours truly, then?! Let's leave aside that the rest of 'em are too busy with petty squabbles and other assorted lulz.

    Anyway, I picked up a volume in English -- which is somewhat fortunate, since I'm writing here in English, although y'know I don't particularly like the language -- which also contains a commentary called in original Nietzsches Wort 'Gott ist tot'. In the preface, the text is given the following description:

    "The Word of Nietzsche : 'God Is Dead' ": The major portions were delivered repeatedly in 1943 for small groups. The content is based upon the Nietzsche lectures that were given between 1936 and 1940 during five semesters at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. These set themselves the task of understanding Nietzsche's thinking as the consummation of Western metaphysics from out of Being.

  2. And the question of how many actual "Übermenschen" humanity has yielded in these past few centuries will remain a matter of debate for historians for the following few centuries. 

  3. And in some sense Bitcoin is thus far the purest example of "value of the physical material", as it relies on none other than raw electrical energy. Lo! A purest abstract which is the expression of the purest material!

    Techne indeed, not just technology. Still, let us not brush aside the implementation of this idea, which can be pushed behind for a few decades merely by laying waste to a few fibers. Satellites? Meh, the way things are going I gather outer space is bound to be cancelled sooner or later. But let us not dwell too much on the pessimistic either. 

  4. In which case, is not technology itself the essence of something? And if so, of what exactly? 

  5. Technology, not computing in particular, is all-integrating. In this sense it is also an expression of nihilism, in case you were wondering why there aren't any birds where you live. 

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10 Responses to “On technology”

  1. #1:
    spyked says:

    If technology were a personal God of sorts, then I strongly suspect that Its greatest mistake was allowing Itself to fall into the hands of idiots -- or in other words, the fucking rioters stole the gunpowder from the Bastille.

    From here on, affairs occurred precisely as predicted: the idiot, armed with his newfound tools of power, suddenly believed that any and every thing was then possible and that various fictions fabricated on the spot such as "the state" would properly act as drop-in replacements for God. This then devolved into a totalitarian mindset, which, however consistent in and of itself, failed to stay in sync with reality in the most important of aspects, e.g. "all humans are equal(ly important), for spherical chicken taken in void".

    As I'm witnessing the passing of the current age, the best I can hope for is: if war gives birth to yet new technology (as it has done so many times before), then at least maybe its creators will prevent it from falling into the hands of idiots this time around.

  2. #2:
    spyked says:

    An esteemed reader informs me that there actually exist Romanian translations of various Heideggerian works, including the title mentioned in this article. And indeed they do! Gabriel Liiceanu translated Heidegger in Romanian, only I've omitted him (although I had originally stumbled upon one of his translations at some point) I will admit, out of naught else than sheer malice towards the man and his gang.

    First of all, let's make it clear that I'm not any sort of authority on matters pertaining philosophy. For example, I haven't actually read either Nietzsche or Heidegger in their original tongue, so far from me the thought of questioning Liiceanu's competence in his practiced field of training. I'm not even interested in that -- philosophy being as much a field as it is a way of life, I'm actually questioning something more fundamental, that is, Liiceanu's value as a human being.

    I'm not even going to start explaining myself on that matter -- go read on Romania's "civil society", on Silviu Brucan's involvement and on the so-called Group for Social Dialogue. Understand their impact on Romanian society on multiple planes and then maybe you will see my point, even if you do not agree with it. I cannot and thus do not believe that the text may be decoupled from its author; and thus I feel kinda sorry that Heidegger in Romanian is Liiceanu's of all people; as much as I'll take Bezdechi's translations of Aristotle over Cornea's any time. Yes, on those grounds alone, since the so-called grounds are more grounded than simple competence in interpretation.

    If you will, take this as an exercise in stoicism (and cynicism, maybe): the mere study of philosophy cannot be decoupled from its daily practice, the substance of any study being conditioned by the daily practice. And on that side, there are many matters which I find questionable in most members of the so-called GDS.

  3. #3:
    spyked says:

    Funnily enough, this point that "technology is the new religion" has become somewhat mainstream on the interwebs. Some of the folks who hold this view even pose as technoconservatives, even though it's visible right away that they're nothing of the sort.

    And meanwhile, even Romanian academics over at ye olde UPB have begun stating that "technology has the potential to enslave us", what with the new AI fads around the corner. As usual, the reality TV show absorbs this narrative just as well as it does all the others.

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