The Promise of Technology is also the DangerAlex Fields
Who would deny the promise of technology? Technology does allow us to achieve feats that would have seemed like fantasy even a few decades ago–nobody denies that. Furthermore, each iteration of new technology makes the one before it instantly obsolete, or at least, they appear lackluster. That which seemed impossible yesterday is possible today, and by tomorrow will be nearly invisible, replaced by new impossibilities.
Does this sound a bit like nihilism? Perhaps. But if, like Friedrich Nietzsche, we take ownership of this apparent nihilism and attempt to overturn it, what would we make of the purpose–is there any to be found in its undulating rhythm?
Being-becoming-nothing. Repeat. What does it mean?
The never-ending “Being-becoming-nothing” of technology gives us humans a unique advantage: we are always becoming Supermen. Again and again. Always daring, always becoming more than we were the day before.
Man is a rope stretched between beast and Superman (Übermensch)–a rope over an abyss. –Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
This is why Martin Heidegger, as early as the the 1930’s and 40’s, called out our age as an essentially technological age.* In fact, he believed he was saying nothing new. Indeed, he held that Nietzsche had already crystallized the final expression of Western philosophy’s project/obsession with modern science, and given a proper name to our all-consuming technological paradigm: Will to Power, which Heidegger (and Nietzsche before him) also called by many other names.
Technology is the means by which we overcome ourselves, and we do this by exerting ever greater will/agency/control/power over our environment & conditions; we set ourselves over and against them as the master is to the slave. Could this ever be anything more than a great ego-maniacal delusion?
Perhaps that, then, is the new definition of technology.
Perhaps. I think we certainly need to remain aware of this aspect of the great discourse–the danger–the “dark side” of technology, if you will. It has the potential to completely consume us on many levels, and by many different means. For example:
- Might we ourselves not become consumed in the mentality of technology: Human beings appearing as mere resources or functionaries, to be categorized and optimized in a great overarching economic computer system?
- Might we not forget that there could be other projects or purposes in the world more worthy of our time and attention?
- Might we not turn the great power of technology against ourselves for the ultimate end of destruction, before we have fully unraveled the importance of its questions?
- Or, might we not create an intelligence in our own image which overcomes us? Which replaces us, makes us obsolete?
Indeed, these fears and more are being expressed in our popular media outlets daily.
Still, I am ever the optimist. I believe in the promise of technology, though I remain vigilant of its dangers–the depth and extent of which we are all still very far from our understanding.
Yes, I am afraid that for the foreseeable future, Heidegger’s technological age is here to stay. We live in the age that we live in, and I am not sure another is coming anytime soon. We often fall prey to the illusion that mankind is always entering the next era or the next great paradigm shift. But in reality, we have never once left the trajectory that brought us here: to the age of perpetual becoming–the age of great anxiety–the technological age.
There is a real sense, I think, that we are getting good at this discourse, and that we must continue to get good at it, even in spite of the danger (and also because of it). There is a growing sense that we can manage it. That we can leverage its methods to our best advantage. We do this because we must still overcome and escape even global-scale technological man-caused threats like nuclear warfare or climate change.
We still strive to become “more human than human,” and even, perhaps, to become Supermen.
What do you think technology is?
*If you want a really thorough (and more interesting) philosophical treatment of this topic, check out Martin Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays.