Technology

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Lewis Mumford There is no clean dividing line between the irrational and the super-rational; and the handling of these ambivalent gifts has always been a major human problem. One of the reasons that the current utilitarian interpretations of technics and science have been so shallow is that they ignore the fact that this aspect of human culture has been as open to both transcendental aspirations and demonic compulsions as any other part of man’s existence and has never been so open and vulnerable as today….

Technology (“science of craft”, from Greek τέχνη, techne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and -λογία, -logia) is the sum of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation. Technology can be the knowledge of techniques, processes, and the like, or it can be embedded in machines to allow for operation without detailed knowledge of their workings. Systems (e. g. machines) applying technology by taking an input, changing it according to the system’s use, and then producing an outcome are referred to as technology systems or technological systems

The Myth of the Machine

Megamachine

Mumford dates the emergence of the “Machine” from the pyramid age (primarily with reference to Egypt, but also acknowledging other ancient cultures in that era which produced massive and precisely engineered structures). He uses the term ‘Megamachine’ to describe the social and bureaucratic structure that enabled a ruler to coordinate a huge workforce to undertake vast and complex projects. Where the projects were public works such as irrigation systems and canals or the construction of cities, Mumford referred to the “labour machine”, and where they involved conquest he used the expression “military machine”. The term “Megamachine” connoted the social structure in its entirety.

We effectively became “time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers” with the invention of the clock.”

Lewis Mumford

Biotechnics

Mumford was deeply concerned with the relationship between technics and bioviability. The latter term, not used by Mumford, characterizes an area’s capability to support life up through its levels of complexity. Before the advent of technology, most areas of the planet were bioviable at some level or other; however, where certain forms of technology advance rapidly, bioviability decreases dramatically. Slag heaps, poisoned waters, parking lots, and concrete cities, for example, are extremely limited in terms of their bioviability, illustrated in the somewhat startling 1943 novel title A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and non-bioviable regions are common to cinema in the form of dystopias (e.g., Blade Runner). Mumford did not believe it was necessary for bioviability to collapse as technics advanced, however, because he held it was possible to create technologies that functioned in an ecologically responsible manner, and he called that sort of technology biotechnics

Forget the damned motor car and built cities for lovers and friends

Lewis Mumford