Technology vs. Society: Is @ for Activism?

“The history of technology is the history of human development.” (Hands,2010. p.23)

In @ is for activism, Joss Hands talks about technology “having an essence” vs. “technology as a product of human society and culture”. Our whole world revolves around technology, how it has developed, and even the people who reject it. But are we in control of technology? Can we even talk about technology as a whole, or should we be looking at its individual parts?

Hands, Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies, looks at other academics’ views on this. One of these is German philosopher, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger sees technology as “having a particular essence.” In his essay, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ he tries to uncover what this essence actually is. He believes that “technology is not defined by any technological object or device, or by a particular range of predicates attached to one”. (Hands,2010. p.24)

I can see what he means by this, as technology as a whole has changed society. But individual technologies have changed the world in different ways so we can’t really group them together as one ‘technology’ and talk about them as just one thing.

Hands also questions where humankind fits in with this theory. “Is this essence of modern technology something that is brought into being by humans, or through humans, or in spite of humans?” (Hands, 2010. p.25)

Personally I think that technology and society complement each other. They control each other in a way because without one, the other wouldn’t have progressed. But I don’t think one is in control over the other. Technology has only evolved because of society’s need and want for it. Yet society has only progressed with the help of technology.

So I guess my views are more in line with German-American philosopher, Herbert Marcuse. In ‘One-Dimensional Man’ he says, “[i]n the face of the totalitarian features of this society, the traditional notion of the “neutrality” of technology can no longer be maintained.” (Marcuse, 1964: p.xlviii). He agrees with Heidegger is some ways, that technology is not neutral. But, as I do, he believes that the “nature of technology is nevertheless a result of its social context.” (Hands, 2010. p.32)

Although Joss Hands sees Marcuse’s view as “a profoundly gloomy one, in which ‘independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society that seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs through the way it is organise’ (p.1)”, he also believes that “we should not be without hope.” (Hands, 2010. p.32)

I agree with this as the social media platforms that were created to connect people have already been used to raise awareness on important issues – #blacklivematter #jesuischarlie. They are a perfect example of society and technology working in unison, and proof that technology can be whatever we make it. While we can’t say that these acts of activism wouldn’t have happened without social media, we should at least agree that it played some part.

For me, @ is for activism brings up more questions than it answers. I think that as society and technology continue to grow, the line between them will continue to blur until there isn’t much distinction between the two. There will always be people who reject technology, but for them to do this technology must exist. This makes them, whether they like it or not, part of a technological society.

Hands, J. (2010) @ is for activism: Dissent, resistance and rebellion in a digital culture. London: Pluto Press.