Aug 4, 2011

Review: Wayward Technology

I found Wayward Technology by Ernst Braun in the campus library section I mentioned previously. I've slowly read it and recommend it for anyone thinking about the nature of technology. It's rather difficult to review as it is so wide-ranging. Braun looks at technology from a sociological perspective, showing how technology and its innovation have always been central to the development of society. He defines technology as "the creation and use of artifacts for practical purposes." According to him, technology is pursued and desired for it's ability to grant independence/self-sufficiency and power/self-determination. However, it can also tend to remove creativity and judgment and impose control on us in various ways. He believes we experience a tension when working with technology between our dependence on technology and a fear of submission to it.

These seem to be good insights on the nature of technology, particularly that we desire and fear it. The fear of technology is magnified when based on increasingly advanced science and engineering that leaves the average person without understanding of how a particular technology works.

I will raise a few issues with the book, starting with a philosophical one. He claims that the "creation of wealth" is the main reason for the existence of technology. This is certainly a product of it; the "practical purposes" he references in his definition of technology can be thought of as eventually resulting in greater wealth. However, I contrast this with the definition from Responsible Technology where the definition points to God and our reaction to him as the ultimate purpose. Even creating wealth is subsumed in glorifying God and enjoying him forever. So, in a sense I agree with Braun that technology does result in this, but strongly disagree over the ultimate purpose of it.

One more complaint: Braun seems to believe that there are only two major forces at work in society: the market and the state. One may push up against the other in particular directions, but those are the forces at work. Thus, when something technologically goes wrong, only the state can intervene. I have to ask: what about the role of the church as a moral force?

An interesting point: he argues that technology makes us isolated from each other in our quest for self-sufficiency and self-determination. His solution is for us to get back to non-technological ways to connect to each other. Facebook wasn't around in 1984, but I would think Braun would not see social media as a solution, but a way to have only surface connections.

Still, I recommend this book for a broad view of how technology is intertwined with society, politics, industry, and innovation.

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