Technology
and Culture

by Gordon Ziniewicz

Northern Steam Engine

Introduction

For the most part, philosophers and technologists have not been on speaking terms with one another.  Since ancient Greek times, philosophy has favored contemplation and action over production or technical know-how.  In the period of the Renaissance and for a while thereafter, there was some attempt by philosophers and scientists to come together.  But, as later philosophers turned to questions of epistemology or theory of knowledge, ethics or theory of moral judgment, metaphysics or theory of ultimate reality, and other speculative issues, the old prejudice against productive knowledge re-emerged.  There was some justification for this critique, however, since technologists were often guilty of not reflecting on the consequences of their technologies.  Their joy at discovering and inventing new techniques often blinded them to the often catastrophic side-effects of their work.  The carnage Jerome -- drawing by Tanya Ziniewiczof human beings devoured in wars waged with terrible devices, the lost lives of factory laborers who felt like so many industrial wheels and pulleys, and the eclipse of more profound types of human reflection by a technical pursuit of efficiency were but some of these effects.  For this reason, many existential or humanist philosophers, such as Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul, joined a chorus of anti-technology thinkers, artists, and writers.  However worthwhile and justified these attacks were and still are, it must be said that they often reflected the old prejudice of contemplators against producers.  People do not like and often fear what they do not understand.  Wholesale attacks against technology (as a monolith) and rationalized fears of technical devices (technophobia) do not serve philosophers well, especially since they benefit daily from the very technologies they abuse.  On the other hand, technologists, who wince at the thought of asking deeper questions about techniques they seek to multiply almost without end, are not well served by their unwillingness to "examine the unexamined."  All of this quarreling seems unreasonable to me.  One objective of this course will be to bridge the gap between those who love to think and those who love to make.  The search for common ground, through sympathetic analysis of many points of view, will be the "single thread" that holds this preliminary and evolving course together.  It is hoped that this course, where some assembly is required, with the help of cooperative attempts to understand the truth, will make students and teacher alike richer in knowledge and wiser in action.  This philosopher, for one, intends to come to a greater appreciation of the technological.  Without being sure how the bridge will turn out, we will build together.

Some themes we will explore in our reading, discussion, and student reports are:
 

The Meaning of Technology Technology and Community
The Meaning of Culture Technology and Education
Techne in the Ancient World Technology and Religion
Craft and Craftsmanship Technology, War, and Politics
Industry and Production Technology and Democracy
The Information Age Technology and Philosophy
Technology, Work, and Leisure Technophobia
Technology, Art, and Music Technocracy
Technology and Health Alienation
Technology and the Environment The Virtual Neighborhood
Technology and Communication Democracy and the Internet
Technology and Human Nature The New Mind

General Requirements

In general, you will be expected to  --
  • acquire an email account (if you don't already have one),
  • have access to a computer with a connection to the Internet,
  • know how to use a web browser,
  • read all of the assigned readings,
  • attend class almost all of the time,
  • participate enthusiastically,
  • complete your project in a timely manner,
  • participate in email discussion,
  • do well on tests and quizzes,
  • smile and help all the rest of us to do well.
Grading for this course will be broken down into the following categories, with their corresponding values (tentative):
  • Class Presentation of Project -- 10%
  • Written Version of Project -- 25%
  • Finalization of Web Version of Project -- 5%
  • Email Discussions -- 20%
  • Tests and Quizzes -- 30%
  • Participation -- 10%
  • Basic Attendance Requirement

Required Reading

Readings will be in print and online:
  • William B. Thompson, Controlling Technology (Prometheus Books, 1991)
  • All online texts indicated on the course calendar.  This calendar will be updated and revised frequently, so be sure to look at it whenever you are preparing for the next class.  This will include online texts chosen by students in connection with their oral presentations.
  • Any periodical articles that I put on reserve in the library.
  • All paper handouts.  I'll try to keep most of this to a minimum.
Whenever possible, I will try to post in advance outlines, summaries, or review questions of the material of the next class.  This will appear as a link along with the readings for that class.

Participation

I can't stress enough the importance of participation. Your "input" is extremely valuable.

Attendance

Attendance will be mandatory in this class, since so much emphasis will be placed on day-to-day work and participation.

Project

This is the single most important work you will be doing this semester.  You will be researching, orally presenting, and eventually publishing to the World Wide Web, your account of some specific issue dealing with the relation between technology and culture.  The purposes of this assignment will be --
  • to increase your understanding of a specific problem in philosophy and technology
  • to improve your library and online research skills
  • to develop your writing skills
  • to gain confidence in oral reporting
  • and to learn how to publish your own page on the World Wide Web.
Here are the guidelines:
  1. You may choose your topic from the list of proposed topics below, or you may develop your own topic.  You will be expected to meet with me to discuss what you would like to do and how best to go about doing it.  We will also work out together the scheduling of your in-class presentation.  This consultation should take place before the deadline for choosing topics.
  2. Bibliographies must be submitted by the date indicated on the calendar.  These should include both print and online sources.  Be sure to give the full URL or Internet address for each online source.  Also, indicate with an asterisk those online sources which will be most useful for the class to read in advance of your presentation.
  3. You will be expected to draw up a short outline or summary of the main points of your presentation, so that I can post it online or make print copies for the class.  You should meet with me in advance of your presentation, so that I can post required readings and duplicate outlines, summaries, etc.
  4. You will present your report as scheduled on the course calendar.  Your presentation may include short multimedia clips such as videotapes or computer slide-shows (MS Powerpoint or Corel Presentations).  However, this use of multimedia should not overshadow your oral presentation.  Individuals should make their presentations short (no more than ten or fifteen minutes) and should leave time for class questions and discussion.
  5. The next stage of this process will be writing your final essay.  The body of your work (apart from endnotes and bibliography) should be no less than eight pages and no more than twelve pages double-spaced.  Do not use quotations from your sources; rather, do your own thinking and put the matters in your own words.  If you are closely paraphrasing from a text, relying heavily on what someone else has said, or simply describing the thrust of an author's argument, make it plain where the idea came from and be sure to provide an endnote that properly references the author's work.  Remember that your final work will be made available to the whole world on the Internet.  We might even hear from some of the authors you have consulted.
  6. The final stage will be to combine your essay and your bibliography and to format them for publishing on the Internet.  The body of your essay will have to be single-spaced (four to six pages) and will be followed by endnotes and bibliography.  You will be expected to create and verify links for your online sources. This final HTML (Web) document should be submitted to me on disk in MS-DOS format.  Ideally, it should be submitted to me as soon as possible after your oral presentation, so that together we can go over any changes in content or style that have to be made.   In the end, your published work will be available for everyone to use and enjoy.
You may be as creative as you wish in your construction of your Web page.  You may use graphics and other enhancements.  For those of you who have experience in authoring Web pages, this will probably present no problems.  For others of you who have never done anything like this before, I will do considerable "hand-holding" and help you get set up with templates (ready-made pages you can just type your report into) and everything else you need to make an attractive page.  You may use any html authoring program you wish, but I would especially recommend two simple and free (for personal use) software programs:  Dida (the freeware version of DidaPro, which is shareware) and  Arachnophilia (Careware).  Also, if you already have some understanding of HTML, you might want to use Netscape's Composer (Editor), which comes with Netscape.  In addition, you might have access to Adobe Pagemill, MS Front Page, or Front Page Express (free version), AOL Press, or any one of a number of excellent programs.  I will introduce you to some of these programs as time permits.
 

Proposed Project Topics

Automobiles and Society 
Gene Technology, Human Nature, and Society  The Philosopher
Technology and the Visual Arts 
Technology and Music 
Technology and Literary Art 
Electronic Texts, Print Publications,
and Human Communication
 
Television, Human Nature, and Society 
Computers and Human Thinking 
Artificial Intelligence 
Industrial Technology and the Environment 
The Year 2000 Problem 
Technology and Religion 
Technology and the Environment 
Technology, Medicine, and Medical Care 
Technology and War 
Technology, Human Rights, and Privacy 
Technology and Education 
Technophobia and Technophilia 
Virtual Reality, Human Nature, and Human Society 
The Internet, Politics, and Democracy 
Technology and Politics 
Technology and Law 
Technology and Business 
Technology and Labor 
Technology and Women

Email Journal

After each class discussion (beginning with the third class meeting of the semester), you will be expected to email me () a short response with comments and questions about the issues we have talked about that day (some topics will be assigned).  Try to use a few good paragraphs to reflect upon and grapple with some of the important problems raised.  I will selectively respond to many of your contributions and, hopefully, heap praise upon your effort and add some ideas to those you have been able to come up with.  We will post many of these messages online, so that students can respond to other students' comments.  I will post my own comments alongside yours.  If you do not have access to a reliable email account at Loyola, you might find it useful to use one of the many free email services on the World Wide Web, e.g., Hotmail, Yahoo, Lycosmail, etc.

Tests

Tests will include a mid-term, a final, and a number of short quizzes.

 

Go to Course Calendar
Bibliography and Online Resources


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Copyright © 1998 - 2000 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.