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The Culture of (High)-Technology: Historical and Philosophical Considerations


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Title: The Culture of (High)-Technology: Historical and Philosophical Considerations

The Culture of (High)-Technology Historical and
Philosophical Considerations
  • Culture is a whole way of life (ideas,
    attitudes, languages, practices, institutions,
    structures of power) and a whole range of
    cultural practices artistic forms, texts,
    canons, architecture, mass-produced commodities,
    technology, and so on. Culture, in other
    words, means not only high culture, what
    usually call art or literature, but also the
    everyday practices, representations, and cultural
    productions of people and of postindustrial

Questions Concerning Technology
  • What types of representations of technology can
    you identify in popular culture?
  • How does our popular culture imagine our
    relationship with technology?
  • What do these representations tell us about the
    meaning of being human?
  • What do these representations tell us about the
    meaning of technology?

The Utopians and the Dystopians
  • In recent history there have always been two
    views of technology.
  • What they share in common is the definition of
    technology as instrumental, a means to an end.
  • Heidegger thinks that this is a very narrow view
    of technology and historically quite new.

Theories of Technology
  • The instrumental theory
  • Tools standing ready to serve the purpose of
    their users (Feenberg, 1991).
  • Technology in itself is deemed "neutral"
  • The value of technology then is determined by the
    use of the adopter.

Instrumental Technology Freedom, Empowerment,
and Control
  • Box 2 Freedom at Fingertips
  • The American, French, and Russian revolutions
    notwithstanding, in 2001, NCR (finally) unveiled
    the Freedom concept to the world. In a
    demonstration at the Marriott Marquis hotel in
    New York in July 2001, Freedom came in the
    shape of a special bank automatic teller machine
    (ATM) in the shape of a bright red egg. Using a
    mobile phone or PDA, people were now free to
    obtain cash from ATMs. With the Freedom concept,
    mobile devices would replace the magnetic-stripe
    cards in a consumers pocket. A pilot project in
    Denmark gave people the first taste of such
    freedom at fingertips Danes could now use for
    the first time a mobile phone to withdraw cash in
    a live environment at regular ATMs on the street.
  • NCR hopes its red eggs will turn into golden
    eggs. The company sees a lucrative future in
    dispensing more than cash from the Freedom eggs,
    or from regular ATMs with Freedom systems in
    banks, restaurants, stores, airports, and hotels.
    Among the uses point-and-click retrieval of
    travel or entertainment tickets, even MP3 files.
    Such Freedom-infused ATMs could dispense physical
    or virtual items. For example, local area maps
    can be downloaded on a mobile device. The mobile
    communications link in the Freedom concept
    employs infrared technology. Other short distance
    mobile technologies such as Bluetooth could also
    be used in ATMs specially adapted to accept such
  • Source NCR hatches a Bluetooth Egg, 10Meters
    News Service, July 13, 2001, http//www.10meters.c
    om/ncr_atm.html Lorraine Russell, World First -
    Mobile Phone Used to Withdraw Cash from NCR ATM
    in Denmark Pilot Project, http//

Theories of Technology
  • The substantive theory
  • a new and powerful cultural system of technology
    that somehow develops outside our human agency.
  • Humans standing ready to serve technology

Substantial Technology Enslavement and

Box 3 Dataveilled Danielle 11-year old Danielle
Duval will be implanted with a microchip to track
her continuously. If kidnapped, Danielles
location would be discovered via a computer.
Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University
near London has worked with human-implantable
chips, including some implanted in his own body.
He is developing the chip that will go in
Danielles leg, and provide security and
assurance to the Duval family. Skeptics are not
convinced that such Star Wars technology is ready
for prime time. When Danielles mother was quoted
as saying, If a car can be fitted with equipment
to enable it to be tracked when it is stolen, why
not apply the same principle to finding missing
children?, a columnist wrote a rebuttal entitled
No, Mrs. Duval, you CANNOT track a mobile human
by wireless like a car! He argued that chip
production economics, the need to have massive
networks reaching every corner, and lack of
portable power sources represented barriers that
would take years to overcome. Source Lorraine
Fisher, Microchipped, http//
siteid50143 Guy Keweny, No, Mrs. Duval, you
CANNOT track a mobile human by wireless like a
car!, http//
-tracker.html Charles Gibson, 21st Century
Lives Kevin Warwick,, Aug. 25,
2000, http//
Technology as Control
  • Renaissance the view of technology as an
    instrumental and rational tool that allows humans
    to control the world and master nature is born.
  • Technological societies Modern Societies
  • Non-technological Societies Primitive Societies.

Technology as Control
  • Technology breaks down the mythic or enchanted
    view of the world.
  • It makes the world and its objects available for
    human use, control and mastery.
  • It secures the world for humans in instrumental
  • The paradox efforts to secure the world and its
    objects has become all the more frantic and
    furious because these efforts are constantly
    under attack by the unsecuring tendencies of
    technology as such.

19th Century The Rise of the Engineer
  • With this conception of Technology, the goal is
    to make everything practical.
  • Even modernist art discovers technology as a way
    of transforming art into something functional,
  • Engineers and mass production come to be seen as
    models even for artistic production!!
  • The house as a mass-produced machine for living
  • An object of design has to be of no discernible
    style but simply a product of the industrial
    order of mass production. E.g., a car, an
    airplane, a building.

The 20th Century The Modern View
  • Everything is to be subjected to standardization
    and rationalization the T-Model replaces the
    customized coach car.
  • The practical, the functional came to be seen as
    the holy grail of production.
  • The famous form follows function the birth
    of a machine aesthetic

Summary 1750-1960
  • With the coming of the modern era, the conception
    of technology was re-defined from the classical
    Greek notion of art
  • Strives to kill the spirits that animate the
  • Render objects of the world as dead.
  • Open a world of rational enlightenment.
  • Bring scientific-technological progress.

The subject in modern views of technology
Technological Humans Cyborg Consumers?
  • Aesthetization of technologyFetishization of
  • Technology is generative, alive
  • From monstrous robots and mutants to artificial
    intelligence, cyborgs, and biotechnological

  • VeriChip Corporation
  • Miniaturized, Implantable Identification

VeriChip is a miniaturized, implantable radio
frequency identification device (RFID) that is
about the size of the point of a typical
ballpoint pen. It contains a unique verification
number. Utilizing an external scanner, radio
frequency energy passes through the skin
energizing the dormant VeriChip, which then emits
a radio frequency signal containing the
verification number. The number is displayed by
the scanner and transmitted to a secure data
storage site by authorized personnel via
telephone or Internet.
Nancy Nisbet
  • Her chips, which emit a read-only 134-kilohertz
    frequency that is read by a scanner, contain a
    12-digit alphanumeric ID. They were injected into
    the back of her hands, in the fleshy area between
    the thumb and index finger the first was
    implanted in October 2001, the second in February
  • The location Nisbet chose for one of the chips --
    the back of the right hand -- is also the precise
    spot where, according to Biblical lore, the "Mark
    of the Beast" will be placed during the
    apocalyptic end of the world detailed in the Book
    of Revelation.

Eduardo Kac
Inserted a chip into his ankle during a live
performance in Sao Paulo in 1997 and then
registered himself in an online pet database as
both owner and animal. After he implanted the
device, a collaborator in Chicago read the chip
information with a robotic arm controlled over
the Internet, in effect making Kac's body a node
in the Internet network.
Levis and PhilipsCo-producing the Kid-Cyborg
  • A multifunctional childrens anorak with
    integrated camera, game displays, and a special
    highlight connected to the Global Positioning
    System (GPS) targets the somewhat larger
    toddlers. The navigation system enables worried
    parents to keep close tabs on their children. A
    further advantage the up-and-coming generation
    effortlessly learns how interactive technology

But what about us Humans?
  • The machine aesthetic of modernity conceives
    technology as dead and humans as alive.
  • Humans are outside technology.
  • If machines are alive they are perceived as
    monsters, irrational, destructive (Frankenstein,
    Golems, False Maria in Film Metropolis,
    Terminator I, etc.)
  • Technology can be out of control.

But what about us Humans?
  • The high-tech age merges technology and the
    human element (e.g., Neuromancer, cyber punk,
  • Machines, the electronic realm, the
    cyberspatial matrix, in short
    high-technological systems are seen as so complex
    that there appears to be a generative, mutational
    force in technology that is beyond our control.
  • Technology is no longer just an instrument but
    has its own logic and mystery.
  • But instead of conceiving of this as destructive
    and out of control, we embrace this uncertainty
    and engage in acts of cooperation, of making
    deals (Gibson).

We and/are the Robot
Overcoming the Dichotomy
  • From a deep structures perspective of
    anthropology, high-tech is now associated with a
    specific archetype
  • No longer apart from but of us.
  • No longer controlled but left to (partly) control
  • No longer fully understood but with an air of the

High-Technology Design
What is High-Tech for them?
  • Is it just a matter of more technology?

High-tech as Cultural Expression
  • High-lights the non-instrumental.
  • High-lights the non-technological.
  • High-tech merely simulates technology.
  • Brings back a meaning of technology that has been
    obscured in our modern conception art and
  • Form and Function become separated!

High-Tech Design
  • a style or design or interior decoration that
    uses objects and articles normally found in
    factories, warehouses, restaurant kitchens, etc.,
    or that imitates the stark functionalism of such
    equipment. English Dictionary Entry.

High-tech Aesthetics
What does this mean?
  • In the culture of High-Technology, modern notions
    of technology are turned on their heads!
  • High-tech turns functionality and instrumentality
    into something else.
  • But into what?

Technology comes from the Greek Techn?
  • Techn? means art, skill, or craft
  • The aesthetic aspect of technology was never
    really not part of technology, just repressed in
    our conception of technology.
  • We witness a re-emergence of the aesthetic within
    our conception of high-technology
    representation, style, design.
  • From either/or to and also
  • instrumentality/functionality AND ALSO

So, What is the Age of High-tech?
  • Technology becomes a matter of representation
  • of style
  • of design
  • of image.

High-Tech as Style
Having a High-Tech Style
  • From basketball shoes, to hair-cuts, to
    apartments (with pipes and ducts in the open,
    concrete floors, and glass walls, etc.), things
    are being described as having a high-tech style.
  • in high-tech then, the modern view of functional
    form has been widely abandoned in favor of a
    technological look or style that need not be
    functional in any traditional sense.

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High-Tech as Style
Bushs Aircrafts
Saddams Aircraft
High-Tech as Style
High-Tech as Style
High-Tech as Style
High-Tech as Style
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Dimensions of High-tech
  • Is starkly minimalist, functionalist interior
    design high-tech?
  • Is the complex circuitry of a microprocessor
  • The dimensions of high-tech
  • Minimalism (reducing objects to the most
    necessary forms, miniaturize, streamline).
  • Complexity (miniaturization requires more in

Evidence in the Marketplace?
Cell phones, PDAs
Stereo systems and speakers
Eye glasses
Apartment buildings
Night clubs, restaurants
  • Our conception of Technology has shifted.
  • The dimension of High-tech can be found somewhere
    at the intersection of two tendencies minimalism
    and complexity.
  • Design now a major site of (high-) technology

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