Apr 03

What is Technology?

Téchnē is a state of capacity to produce with a true logos,” Aristotle defined.  loadingLogos was a central notion in Greek philosophy, broadly meaning reason and discourse.  Because Téchnē (Art) had its own reasoning and discourse, it was knowledge, as distinct from opinion (doxa) and mere experience.  Many arts existed, among others Aristotle cited architecture, medicine, and mathematics.

Boston botanist Jacob Bigelow is generally credited with reviving the word “technology,”   He delivered a series of lectures in 1829 entitled “Elements of Technology”, in which gave a definition with an Aristotelian ring: Technology is “the principle, processes, and nomenclatures of the more conspicuous arts, particularly those which involve application of science.”

Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the labourer. – Karl Marx


Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.”  – Alan Kay


Technology is everything that doesn’t work yet.” – Danny Hillis


..You would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

… ‘Technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them. Before long, computers will be as trivial and plentiful as chairs (and a couple of decades or so after that, as sheets of paper or grains of sand) and we will cease to be aware of the things. In fact I’m sure we will look back on this last decade and wonder how we could ever have mistaken what we were doing with them for ‘productivity.’ ” – Douglas Adams 1999 essay How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet

With credit to the Economist Survey of Robotics for setting me off on this quest, and Engineering — an endless frontier for helping with all the Greek bits..

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