Technology, Time, and the Limits of the Human


Technology…what is that all about…is it good or is it wack? From watches to smartphones, windmills to nuclear submarines, human beings have been and will continue to be immersed in technology.

This study group will be an ongoing reading/discussion group dedicated to understanding the nature of technology, technological systems, and the impact that technological changes have on individuals, culture, biology and ecology. We will pay particular attention to the structure of temporality as it is experienced by humans, and the telescoping nature of technological transformations. Initially we will explore the mythic origins of fire, language and writing as early and important technological developments. We will then examine the historical development of various technological systems and the impact they have on human evolution by perusing the archaeological and genealogical accounts of technological revolutions. We will then examine various theories about: the essence of technology; its impact on socio-cultural phenomena such as law, literature, family, politics, and war; its relationship to science and engineering; its impact on human physiology and neurology; its impact of the environment; the information revolution and big data; in addition to other themes.

General outline

  1. We will begin with a quick look at some myths about the origin of language and writing: Egyptian (Thoth), Christian (Adam and Babel), Vedic (Vac), Greek (Hermes)
  2. Then we will look at some myths about the origin of fire: Greek (Prometheus), Vedic (Matarisvan), Chinese (Zhu Rong), Hebraic Apocrypha (Azazel), Ojibwa (Nanabozho)
  3. We will then outline a terse and simplistic chronology of technological change
  • Basic Stone Tools
  • Fire
  • Domestication of Animals
  • Agriculture
  • Metallurgy
  • Thermodynamics in the First and Second Industrial Revolutions
  • Nuclear Power
  • Digitization and Computer Technology
  • Nano and Biotechnologies

We will then begin various readings related to theories of technology, technological change, and the impact of those technologies on what it means to be human, what the human is, was or can become.

Plato – Meno, Phaedo, Phaedrus (anamensis vs hypomnemata)
White – Medieval Technology and Social Change
Ihde – Postphenomenology
Bousquet – The Scientific Way of Warfare
Bacon – New Atlantis
Bentham – Panopticism
Marx – Fragment on Machines, Capital, Technology Notebooks
Husserl – Internal Time Consciousness
Benjamin – Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Heidegger – Being and Time, Question Concerning Technology
Simondon – On the Mode of Existence of Technological Objects
Leroi-Gourhan – Gesture and Speech
Mumford – Technics and Civilization
Adorno – Minima Moralia
Foucault – Self-Writing, Technologies of the Self
Deleuze and Guattari – Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Jaynes – The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicmeral Mind
Ellul – The Technological Society
Latour – Laboratory Life
Law – Situating Technoscience
Serres – Conversations on Science, Culture and Time
Girard – Evolution and Conversion
Laruelle – Principles of Non-Philosophy
Stengers – Order Out of Chaos
Borgmann – Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life
Winner – Autonomous Technology
Feenberg – Critical Theory of Technology
Habermas – Technology and Science as “Ideology”
Stiegler – Technics and Time 1
Turkel – Simulation and its Discontents
Verbeek – What Things Do
Heim – Electric Language
Haraway – Cyborg Manifesto
Harding – Sciences From Below
Butler – Dawn
Braidotti – The Posthuman
Floridi – The Forth Revolution

The order of the readings are not set in stone and other reading suggestions are welcome. Given that this is a protracted reading group feel free to come anytime the reading seems interesting.