Progressing Towards an Evolution of "Technology" - Intro

Technology.  From the first wheel and wedge to decoding the human genome to today’s super-powerful nanochips, it’s an unavoidable part of our sentience and, unless our species is entirely wiped out, it will always continue to be as such.

In spite of this, for many, the word evokes dystopia, conjuring scenes from “Metropolis” or “Terminator”, it speaks of dehumanization and a clear separation from Nature; it’s the death of innocence and spirituality and the cause of all our social woes. For some, it's a clear offense to god. While people willingly immerse their lives with technological goods, ironically, popular notions point towards the belief that technological societies are inherently flawed and cost us our freedom as well as our psychological and physical health. And yet, we allow it.  Are nerds and Trekkies bullying us into this?  I think not.
So what’s humanity without technology? 

With all our knowledge, it’s now impossible to go back to living in caves and gnawing our meat off of a fresh carcass. Even those that purport a hate of all things technological are always willing to embrace what amounts to thousands of years of shared knowledge all linked through countless technological creations. So, unless we’re willing to live as we did in the days pre-dating that first wooden club, where does one draw the line? Are Amish and Mennonite community members anymore “human” for having decided to draw that line at what they deemed to be sinful, artificial modes of technology, namely, electricity, telephones, and combustible engines (those that haven’t abandoned this practise)? What about an isolated tribe who’s never heard of Nintendo? 

And popular notions, it turns out, are wrong. All statistics covering hundreds of trends and problems have shown that technology has given us major improvements in the quality of living; things have never been better! Global warming is always the elephant in the room, but, anyway... 

Technology is so ingrained in our lives that the word has become an umbrella for anything electronic and scientific, the term now commonly used to refer to an entire class of retail products. Newspapers and magazines reinforce this sense of the word with their “Science and Technology” sections that place a great deal of emphasis on the latest electronic gadgets, particularly, communications devices.    

The sense of the word and our usage of it has changed greatly over the centuries, however. A portmanteau word from the Greek, téchnē, meaning an "art" or “craft” and its related set of "skills", concatenated with the suffix –logía, which means the study of something, technología was originally used to refer to all aspects of any of the commercial arts, i.e. the study of or a collection of techniques.
These days, as mentioned above, we certainly do not refer to carpenters as technological people, however, with the proper perspective, it becomes clear that the sense of technology hasn’t actually changed all that much since the word’s inception into language; the word has followed the times, reflecting those areas which have had the greatest impact on social living. This sense is intuitive, its scope limited to and defined by a generation’s current times.  Case in point: is anyone still amazed that we can now light fires at will?

We all know what technology is, yet it is one of those things we all have a hard time explaining. As more advancements are made in increasingly specialized fields, the more detached we seem to become from the core concepts with which it is important to identify it, ever more limiting its reference to mere surface forms that appear to be increasingly in opposition to all that we consider to be Natural.
But, if we are given the ability to progress, how can progress be unnatural?
And technology, it seems, isn’t just limited to humans and can’t be viewed as a defining characteristic of Homo Sapiens. What are we to make of beavers and dams? More to the point: dolphins, crows and chimpanzees, amongst others, have all demonstrated the ability to build tools—given the time, could any of those evolve an intelligence level comparable to ours? Are we just the lucky winners in a "natural" race or an abhorrent anomaly?                

Human kind is at an evolutionary crux. Technology affects what it is the outcome of, evolution, and though it has done so indirectly since its first manifestation, it now gives us the option to apply direct, conscious control over evolutionary processes. In its simplest form, technology is a natural force, and it has reached a point where it is now able to surpass the very force that created it. Is this ethically right? But in the Big Bang-scheme of things, what are ethics, really?    

Technology, properly viewed, is the embodiment of that force that both drives and is driven by all that is naturally sentient, the lines between all the components that form and shape the natural world unclear, the relationship between each so interrelated and necessary.  

Modern physics has demonstrated that observation affects reality, but what are we to make of the fact that that observation itself is mediated by technology? Technology shapes our perceptions of the world and feeds the human experience while also being fed by it; it is a necessary component for what, rationally, it cannot be a part of, any concept of human nature, however defined and whether fixed or variable. Paradoxically, any notion of human nature could not have developed without technology just as the birth of human nature couldn’t possibly have been sparked without technological innovations if we are to believe that humans are the result of natural processes, our intelligence the outcome of evolutionary forces. On the other hand, we seem to have created a collectively-understood but indefinable division between nature and technology, but given that all things technological arise out of natural processes, what justifies such a division?

In the next series of posts, I’ll be providing my own views on the many points I raise here as I propose a new definition for technology, one which, I hope, will break common conceptions and, as such, help shed a light on "humanity" while awakening a greater sense of responsibility in all of us.  
Is a new term necessary? Time, with technology, will tell...

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© 2011, Pascal-Denis Lussier
Photo: Pascal-Denis Lussier

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