The answer to life, the universe and technology is…

Kim Jackson in the QBusiness section of the Sep 2018 Qantas magazine is asked about Tech gadgets that didn’t change her life – ‘is technology that doesn’t change your life even technology?’

In the concept of ‘dasein’, the philosopher Martin Heidegger proposes that our very existence is defined not only by our internal selves but also by the environment we interact with. Dasein or being-in-the-world is represented as the interaction between human and world by the notation human-world. Let’s take this as a plausible hypothesis and see where it leads.

Don Ihde builds on Heidegger’s concept by suggesting that technology intermediates our interaction with the world which can be notated as human-technology-world. In intermediating this interaction, technology naturally amplifies some aspects of the world while reducing others. For example, if I use a telescope to look at the moon I sacrifice being able to see the whole night sky in return for getting more detail on one aspect of it – for example the craters on the moon.

In doing so some interactions we have are directly with technology such as reading a temperature gauge (the hermaneutic relations) while in others we perceive the technology as an extension to our selves (the embodiment relations). Ihde gives the example of driving a car. An experienced driver will operate the car almost subconsciously in order to get to their destination (embodiment) but if there is a fault will become aware of the gauges and instruments to determine what is wrong (hermaneutic).

Philosopher Peter-Paul Verbeek takes this concept to another level in defining a set of technological mediations. He notes that, as Kim Jackson above muses, technology necessarily changes our lives. Verbeek adds a number of relations to the embodiment and hermaneutic – the background relation where technology controls as aspect of the world (eg a heating system); and the alterity relation where we interact directly with technology to get a service (eg an ATM).

Verbeek also notes that as technology progresses the nature of our technology use changes. Embodiment relations are shifting from external assistive tools to fully integrated cybernetics. Background relations are shifting from ‘dumb’ control functions to AI based smart systems that independently adjust to our needs and preferences. There is no doubt that these change our lives and indeed our selves and even what it means to be human.

This raises a new set of challenges for technologists. Every technology brings its advantages and disadvantages. As a technology is adopted it meets various levels of resistance and often has unanticipated side effects. Yet the pace of change is increasing.