Rethinking Human and Society’s Relationship with Technology

Rethinking Human and Society’s Relationship with Technology

Kamaran Fathulla (University of Essex, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/jskd.2012040103


There are increasing calls emerging from various fields of interest for broadening society’s understanding of technology, moving away from purely technical terms to one that is underpinned in a human context. However, any new ways of understanding are often driven by the specifics of the individual field formulating the new way of understanding, leading to fragmentation. This paper provides an integrated framework for understanding technology in a way that transcends disciplines. The new approach is underpinned in Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. The paper first gives an overview of the philosophy, which is then used to discuss a conceptual framework for a richer and non-reductionist relationship between Society and Technology.
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Introduction: The Need For A New Approach

Technologists, systems methodologists, and philosophers all call for a broader vision of technology.

Pacey (2000) cites an example of different types of problems, many were non-technical, encountered using a simple hand water in an Indian village. The example points to the need for a broader view of technology which takes on board the link between society and technology, the role of the human use of the device, and an appropriate plan for their maintenance. Mingers (1995) attributes many failures of technological tools and devices to the narrow, mainly engineering (technical), ways of thinking inherent in our approach to technology. Checkland (1978) pointed to what he called the limits of “means-ends” scheme employed in technology and systems thinking and suggested that technology becomes blind if engineers thought only of means and ends. Consequently, such a view inspired Checkland to try to break through the hard systems thinking and develop a new approach in which humans play a meaningful role. Mitcham (1994) identifies two poles of philosophical standpoints when discussing technology. These are the internal versus the external poles. Their differences being in terms of what they perceived to be the starting point of discussion, i.e., the for later starts from the application and practices of technology and ends with philosophy whilst the elater starts with human and social sciences and ends with technology. Both approaches have shaped humanities thinking for the past two centuries. Strijbos and Basden (2006) discuss limitations of both approaches. Mitcham (1994) points to the gulf between both approaches. Schirmacher (1983) echoes the limitations of the three viewpoints discussed thus far. Schirmacher also goes on to paint a more serious impetus for the need to better understand our relationship with technology …. “An erroneous judgment on the nature of technology could have fatal consequences. He also goes on to question the limitations of existing viewpoints and labels them as “insufficient”. Religious dogmas and political and social ideologies as well as different philosophies have in various periods exerted a determining influence on the course of science and technology (Pool, 1997), all the way to today’s stem cell.

The challenge for a new approach is significant.

In his radical critique of Western philosophy, of metaphysics, Martin Heidegger (1927) also dealt with technology as one mode of our customary thinking and acting, and brought out its crucial significance for the present. Heidegger's phenomenology demands an entirely altered attitude towards life, it calls for a leap into non-metaphysical thinking.

In the next section we will make a departure from existing approaches and presents a fresh new way of viewing reality which we will then use to help develop a new way of seeing our relationship with technology.


Dooyeweerd’S Philosophy

Central to Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is the notion that there are two 'sides' to reality as we know it:

  • Law Side

  • Entity Side

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