1.6. Triumph of the Contrivance

Personally, I see a rather different promise in all the machinery of the digital age. The techne we invest in outward machinery always gains its character and meaning from the techne of our inner devisings. What we objectify in the hard stuff of the world must, after all, first be conceived. Look at the technologies heralded by people like Abraham and Hillis, and you will notice that the conceiving has a distinctive and limited character. We have invested only certain automatic, mechanical, and computational aspects of our intelligence in the equipment of the digital age, and it is these aspects of ourselves that are in turn reinforced by the external apparatus. In other words, you see here what engineers will insist on calling a "positive feedback loop," a loop almost guaranteeing one-sidedness in our intelligent functioning. This one-sidedness is nicely pictured in the lameness of Hephaestus, the craftsman god.

All this can be summarized by saying, "Technology is our hope if we can accept it as our enemy, but as our friend, it will destroy us." Of course its friendly approach threatens us, and of course it calls for a certain resistance on our part, since it expresses our dominant tendencies, our prevailing lameness or one-sidedness. The only way we can become entire, whole, and healthy is to struggle against whatever reinforces our existing imbalance. Our primary task is to discover the potentials within ourselves that are not merely mechanical, not merely automatic, not reducible to computation. And the machine is a gift to us precisely because the peril in its siding with our one-sidedness forces us to strengthen the opposite side at least it does if we recognize the peril and accept its challenge.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much recognition yet. In fact, in many quarters there is nothing but an exhilarated embrace of one-sidedness. Where, for the Greeks, techne always had two complementary but never completely separable aspects the increasingly self-aware inner originating and the outer result our technology has become so much gadgetry and wiring and abstract protocols and transistors in one physical state or another. We have forgotten the crafty inner origin and essence of the techne that once served our ancestors so well.

And so we reconceive the interior space within which Odysseus hatched his plots and secured his name, telling ourselves that it is merely filled with mindless brain mechanisms, more gadgets exactly like the external ones we are so adept at making. In other words, the techne that devises is being co-opted by its own devices. Odysseus was on his way to being a true contriver; we seem content to be mere contrivances.

Compare Homer's man of many devices with Silicon Valley's man of many gadgets, and you will immediately recognize a reversal of emphasis within techne. Where the individual's consciousness of self once became more vivid through the experience of his own capacity to objectify his inner contrivings in the outer world, today the objects as such have engulfed us, threatening the originating self with oblivion.



Devices of the Soul. Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
ISBN: 0596526806
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 122
Authors: Steve Talbott

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