Technology As An Environment

Technology can be seen as the mediator, or the medium between man and nature.

There are no other relationships between man and nature; the whole set of complex and fragile bonds that man has patiently fashioned-poetic, magic, mythical, symbolic bonds-vanishes. There is only the technological mediation, which imposes itself and becomes total.

This is a point where one can make a reference to The Human Use of Human Beings by Norbert Weiner, where his argument that technology's effectiveness relies on the information coherence of the messages transmitted through the cybernetic system would see to support the idea that the technological system must fight to be the sole sender of messages. Ellul lists three "vast consequences:"

  1. The technological mediation is autonomous. This means that it escapes any system of values (and becomes self-serving only).
  2. The technological mediation is sterilizing. The "rich and creative unconscious" is gone, as it pushes towards predictable stability.
  3. The relationship between technology and man is unmediated. This is akin to "the medium is the message" - there is no longer a delineation between what we are told and how we are told it.
The world in which man lives is that of his mechanical environment. This brings both a knowledge of that environment and an overall behavior relative to that environment. Man no longer seeks to know the natural environment as such.
This is particularly obvious in the difficulty or impossibility of symbolizing. One of modern man's greatest losses is the faculty of symbolizing. This faculty did and could function only in relation to the natural environment.

Any brief digging into the power of symbols, as can be seen through the work of Carl Jung, or any historian of occult history, will show that symbolism and the unconscious mind are absolutely critical for dynamic breakthroughs in science and art.

The artificiality means essentially that only artifacts can enter this environment and that man can relate only to them. Anything else cannot be part of the environment, it would not harmonize, which is perfectly intolerable in the technological environment. There is no way to picture a car engine with a little grass or some flowers.

This is been a few of my notes on the book The Technological System, Chapter "Technology as Environment."

All quotes are taken from The Technological System by Jaques Ellul, unless otherwise noted.

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