Let us define technology, in a general and preliminary way, as (1) the use of any tool or method as a means of obtaining a goal and (2) the study of such means. From this point of view, we may say that humans have always used technology. Furthermore, many of yesterday’s technologies relate directly to some today.
At the same time, the sheer quantity and scope of today’s technologies far exceed those of yesterday. This quantitative change is so great that Jacques Ellul, in Perspective on Our Age (1981), insists we acknowledge that a qualitative change in technology has resulted. As he puts it, when we as humans “moved from the flint arrowhead to the atomic bomb, there was a qualitative change” (36).
Jacques believes that yesterday’s simple technologies became today’s technological phenomenon beginning in the 1700s. This phenomenon has grown exponentially between then and now. He identifies three major differences which separate yesterday’s technologies from today’s technological phenomenon.
One, a major difference in norms. Today's technological phenomenon is distinguished by an emphasis on rationality and efficiency. Beginning in the 1700s, people started comparing technologies and using reason to determine which ones were most efficient. Before that, other criteria, such as religion or custom, determined the tools and methods one used as means to obtain a goal.
Two, a vast difference in scope. In the past, technology concerned simple tools and methods used to obtain practical results. Today, technology encompasses all human activities. Every activity is rationally evaluated to find the one most efficient method for obtaining a result.
Now, for example, we use psychological analyses to most efficiently modify individual behavior. We use propaganda and advertising to control the ways individuals think, feel, speak, and act.
We engage in sociological analyses to control group dynamics. Today technology has been “widely applied in human relations, public relations, and the army” (37).
Yesterday athletes each had a personal style and improved their results by practicing that style. Today, every aspect of an athlete’s life, and not just the way they play their sport, is rationally evaluated to lead to maximum success.
Three, the subordination of science to technology. Back in the old days, new scientific discoveries led to fresh technological applications. Then the relationship between science and technology became much more dynamic. It was new technological applications that made new scientific discoveries possible. Now, new technological applications arise out of existing ones without the need for any new scientific discoveries and new scientific discoveries suffer neglect if they lack connection to ongoing technological applications.
This technological phenomenon, with its emphasis on applying reason to develop efficiency in all areas of human endeavor, led, of course, to what is called the Industrial Revolution. That revolution, however, was only one part of what was really the Technological Revolution. At the same time that industrialization was occurring, there were also active movements to rationalize laws, human knowledge (including the sciences), and the government of national states. There was, in other words, an increasingly clear and dominant technological intention. Diderot’s Encyclopedia represents this whole change in culture.
Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.