18.3. Not Solutions, But a Strengthening of the "I"
However much we may find the reduction to manageable problems a necessary, temporary expedient, it is vital to keep in mind the larger context. Society presents us with evolving conversations we must participate in, not problems to be finally solved. Only when we remain aware of what we are doing and continually allow the larger context to discipline, dissolve, and re-shape our narrowly focused problem solving do we remain on safe ground.
I don't know of any truth more worthy of contemplation in our society today than this one, startling as it may appear: no problem for which there is a well-defined technical solution is a human problem in any full sense. It has not yet been raised through imagination and will and self-understanding into the sphere where we can participate meaningfully in it. And what is this sphere? It is, above all, the domain of the "I," or self. The "I," as Jacques Lusseyran remarks,
nourishes itself exclusively on its own activity. Actions that others take in its stead, far from helping, serve only to weaken it. If it does not come to meeting things halfway out of its own initiative, the things will push it back; they will overpower it and will not rest until it either withdraws altogether or dies. (Lusseyran 1999, Chapter 4 )
All problems of society are, in the end, weaknesses of the "I," and it is undeniable that technologies, by substituting for human effort, invite the "I" toward a numbing passivity. But by challenging us with less-than-fully-human problems and solutions, technologies also invite the "I" to assert itself. This assertion always requires us to work, in a sense, against the technology, countering it with an activity of our own countering it, that is, with something more than technological. It requires an inner wrench, a difficult, willful arousing of self, to accept active responsibility for what technologies do to us. But when we succeed in this, the technology becomes part of a larger redemptive development. When, on the other hand, technology as such is seen to bear "solutions," the disastrous abdication of self has already occurred.
What we should ask of the technology pushers, whether they reside as engineers at the MIT Media Lab or as employees at high-tech companies or as consumers in our own homes, is a recognition that the primary danger today is the danger of this reversal, where the strengthening activity of the "I" is sacrificed to the automatisms around us. For every technology we embrace, we should require of ourselves an answer to the question, "What counter-force does this thing require from me in order to prevent it from diminishing both me and the social contexts in which I live?"