© Michael H. Goldhaber, August 20,1997 (

#1. There is nothing more misleading than Heidegger and followers confusing “techne” with “technology.” For someone as besotted with etymology as Heidegger, the depth of this mistake is quite revealing. Techne is roughly craft or a craft. Craft knowledge tended to be handed down generation by generation among the active participants in the specific craft, where it traditionally remained relatively shielded from those not directly involved (even from members of different genders or classes who occupied the same) household.

Technology on the other hand was an attempt, begun quite late, say around 1600 to codify the crafts,  expose the secrets and make them accessible to the world (in encyclopedias of sorts, at first), and especially to members of the new, active leading class who would be able to recombine and control the elements of the formerly autonomous and distinct craft practices.

#2. Thus technology is the science of craft, a science in its own right that draws on other sciences, and is necessary for them as well.

#3. The essential point about technology, like science, is that it is disseminated, openly available knowledge. Technology is from the start, reverse engineering, in that objects that come from elsewhere, say from other cultures, are analyzable into the processes that make them and make them work, so that they can be remade elsewhere. Thus the European development of “china” or Chinese-style, high-glazed pottery is an example of reverse engineering centuries ago. Before the advent of technology this could no more be contemplated than could making from scratch a fruit or spice that came from far away.

(One of the ironies of modernity is that technology removes most of what previously could be thought of as economic comparative advantage; yet it is modern economics that fetishizes comparative advantage in arguing for international trade openness. Aside from the contingencies of climate and natural resources, pre-technological trade was the result of different secret (or as good as secret) kinds of knowledge that would normally stay in a country. Today despite all the brouhaha about national secrecy, trade secrecy, and so forth, this is all pretty much gone. )

#4. The openness of technological dissemination means that technology is inherently political in a way that crafts are not. Debates about what is possible take place incessantly in the public arena, and while there are elites who are more central to such discussions, they do filter down to ordinary people everywhere.

#5. For this same reason, the so-called philosophy of technology is not something separate from technology, but an inherent part of it.

#6. The claim that we live in a technological society is thus a claim about a particular historical era that necessarily also has with it the features of public discussion and openness, and the relations of production that constitute either capitalism or socialism, i.e. where the rulers, whoever they are have a direct say not only about who shall produce or what shall be commanded for production, but how it shall be produced and with an interest in innovation, the recombination of technical methods for new ends.

#7. A certain dialectic obtains, as members of the ruling classes become closer or farther from a direct involvement in technology. Technology as a study of craft contains within it the seeds of its own endless meta-ization. The attempt to develop rules for the management of technology, of making the best use of specialized knowledge held by the technologists, involving both an endless re-separation of the ones with knowledge of specifics from effective control of what they do with that knowledge, and endless opportunities for more and more public interventions at ever-higher levels in the intended outcomes of technology.

#8. Thus among the higher levels are such moves as Taylorization, socialist central planning (Das Kapital as reverse engineering,) management research, AI knowledge engineering, anthropology of offices, the codification of the Jane Jacobs approach to cities. Etc. What is interesting is that at each level, each kind of attempt, those at the top are not themselves yet technologized, but are practicing idiosyncratic crafts, and these crafts end up defining the differences that matter, plus continuously undermining and corrupting the uniform rationality of the whole.

Thus, technology “should” leave us nothing but an ultimate gray uniformity, but instead it propels strangeness, irreducibility, individuality and peculiarity into the foreground over and over. Technology is always reverse engineering of other human activity, a continual turning inside out, a codifying and publicizing of the private that inevitably deconstructs the apparent orderliness that sets it in motion, so creating new kinds and places for craftiness.

#9. Technology is always about the human mind and  the secret knowledge contained therein, though this knowledge appears to be primarily about matter, and thus gets reformulated as natural science as well. The question is, is this process once begun simply an endless one. I think not. I think technology does reach a point of sufficient success in the field of the material, in the sense of meeting the normal physical needs of individuals with growing ease. This of course inevitably creates a focus on the abnormal needs of all kinds, from nutritional peculiarities to minor deformities ripe for surgery, to kinky sex, to odd or extreme hobbies, to illicit drugs and body piercings. Notwithstanding, or perhaps even including these emergent desiderata, the trend, in the advanced(?) countries anyway, is towards greater emphasis on mental and emotional levels, post-materiality as it were.

#10. The original crafts were mostly material in their focus, a matter of fulfilling bodily ends, whether through farming, milling, textile making, beer brewing or what have you. Thus, in a way, the exposing of secrets operated on a different level from the affected crafts. Today however, the residues of meta-crafts primarily work at less material and more ideational levels themselves. Thus the bearing of secrets, as the basic technological goal, also becomes a convenient method of self -aggrandizement, self-revelation, confession, empowerment, therapy ---in all cases, attention-seeking-- while it also is congruent to the technological activity itself and is carried on through the products of previous layers of technology, such as the Internet.

#11. If this intuition, which I have discussed in different forms in so many places, proves to be valid, then of course the future of technology, as the future of capitalism and socialism, is perhaps in question. The technology of attention-getting, inevitably tied as it is to the inherently craft like activity of self-revelation, though made possible by a certain set of technological developments, telescopes the technological process itself. What is revealed, and therefore immediately available for copying by others at the same time retains its idiosyncrasy. The technologist and the technologized (as it were) are now one and the same, and the craft of this individual technologist, in being technologized is made valuable only to her, this one person, precisely through its spread.  There is no point in anyone else copying these patterns. They are simultaneously elevated to universality and outmoded at the same moment. Thus, in a certain sense technology might give rise to a 

post-technological era. I do not mean to claim that this will of necessity be a better era.

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