Carl Mitcham: "Notes Toward a Philosophy of Meta-Technology":
Outline and Summary by Gordon Ziniewicz

I.  Two Philosophies of Technology:

A.  Engineering philosophy of technology uses technological thought and action as a model for understanding even non-technological thought and action; puts non-technological experience in technological terms.

B.  Humanities philosophy of technology regards technological thought and action as only one aspect of human thought and action and delimits the technological within a larger framework (lifeworld or culture).

II.  The Power and Impotence of the Philosophy of Technology:
A.  Engineering philosophers of technology have succeeded by --
1.  getting engineers to think about their work and distinguishing technology from science as a field to be examined and
2.  successfully countering the humanities criticisms of technology made by the likes of Mumford, Heidegger, and Ellul.  What remained were piecemeal criticisms of technology.
B.  Engineering philosophy of technology has showed its impotence in not producing a grand scheme comparable to that of the humanities criticisms of technology.  Thus philosophy of technology remains on the margins of modern technology.

C.  Historically, modern technology grew out of philosophical criticism of tradition by the likes of Descartes, Bacon, and Galileo.

D.  Later philosophers, such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Rousseau subjected modern philosophers (such as Descartes) to critique, but had little influence or impact on modern technology.

E.  Results:

1.  Humanist philosophy of technology has failed to deal with many of the problems presented by modern technology.
2.  Engineering philosophy of technology has taken the failure of the humanist philosophy of technology as a green light for its own uncritical praise of modern technology and its failure to deal with its problems.
[In other words, the sweeping yet impotent criticisms of the humanists have failed, and  engineering philosophy of technology is not critical enough.]
F.  Mitcham intends to contribute to the engineering philosophical tradition, yet examine and criticize the modern technological project.]
III.  The Emergence of Meta-Technology:
A.  The new global online culture has brought us into a new phase of technology or meta-technology, which makes traditional humanities criticisms almost irrelevant.

B.  Three-phase historical framework (derived from Polanyi and Habermas):

1.  Pre-modern technology or technics:  No need for a separate philosophy of technology because technics is embedded in a lifeworld or culture which can be examined by general philosophy.  In this stage, technology is within culture.  Compare to the distinctive techniques which belong to culture, according to the baseline definition in "What Is Culture?"

2.  Modern technology or autonomous technology:  Part of a decontextualizing or disembedding process.  Technology, like economy and other institutions, is disembedded from society and particular culture.  Technology becomes an abstract resource, separated from cultural context, and able to be studied or used on its own.  Faced with pure instrumentality or usefulness (means), it is necessary to work out what is meant by the user.  In this stage, technology transcends particular cultures.  Philosophy of technology is the study of this separate phenomenon.

3.  Meta-Technology:  A recontextualization or reembedding of technology that does not return to the pre-modern notion of technology within culture, but goes beyond modern technology (replaces it) to form a new culture of its own, a global  or "transcultural culture."  In this stage, a new techno-culture transcends traditional particular cultures.  There is no longer any need for philosophy of technology, but only for a general philosophy which reflects on the "meta-technical condition of the postmodern techno-lifeworld."  In other words, philosophy becomes once again reflection on cultural context (experience), where culture has expanded beyond and transcended traditional cultural boundaries.  One might ask the extent to which this techno-culture dissolves and embraces other cultural aspects (see Pacey).

C.  Previously autonomous spheres are being linked and connected in ways that imitate traditional culture.

IV.  Conclusion:

A.  Distinction between meaning and value (Lorenzo Simpson).
1.  "An action is meaningful if it fits into or repeats some life pattern."  (meaningful time)

2.  "An action has value when it is an efficient means to some end-value."  (efficiency without "wasted time")

B.  "Technology is an attempt to develop means for the ever more effective realization of end values."
1.  Meaning perspective of house-painting:  week-long social cooperative venture with one's neighbors.  Time spent working together is worthwhile.

2.  End-result value perspective of using a paint-bomb to paint the house all at once.  Taking a week would be a waste of time.

C.  Simpson, who still operates with the old view of modern technology, believes that the "efficiency" of technology constitutes a threat to meaning in life.  This classic humanist view fails to take account of the new development of meta-technology in which --
1.  technology is not devoid of meaning and time spent with technology (such as browsing the Web) may not be "efficient" but may be nevertheless quite enjoyable.

2.  Value is not enhanced by spending time on the World Wide Web, but meaning is.

3.  We used to think of technology as something we do; we must now think of meta-technology as something we are in.


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