Thoughts on Technology / Ortega y Gasset

George Milkowski
Technology and Education Seminar
Brown University, Spring 1998

Gasset sets himself the task of defining technology in the context of man and nature. He begins by first looking at man's natural instincts and asking the question is this enough to define man's needs. He argues that man's real needs are independent of nature and rather are based on an individual's will and desires. These acts of will translate into man's manipulation of nature in an effort to provide/address these needs. When compared to natural needs (i.e., basic survival needs) Gasset calls man's personally defined necessities "superfluous", beyond natural needs. The end result is that man creates a new nature, a supernature separate and dominant over "real nature". Gasset argues that technology is the means whereby man separates himself from nature and that it is the mechanism used to adapt the natural environment to the individual. Gasset maintains that "Man without technology,..., is not man."

Gasset proposes that man's life program or project of existence is a completely fabricated and individualized set of aspirations that technology makes a reality, "releasing man for the task of being himself". He defines three periods in the evolution of technology, of which we, in the present day, are in the third, the technology of the technician. This period is characterized by man's awareness of technology as a thing unto itself a time where the artisan has been dissociated into two components the technician and the worker. Man has created machines, those things which perform beyond handiwork and are capable of producing objects by themselves with little or no human intervention. It is also the period of man's realization that technology is far more than simple haphazard discovery. Man know recognizes that technology is a conscious intellectual endeavor which leads to unlimited human activity.

Gasset's definition of nature vis a vis man is extremely narrow and therefore his definition of technology as it pertains to man is extremely broad. If we accept his definition of technology as that which is not related to animal nature then all human thought and intellectual endeavors which are products outside of natural needs are technology. Do you feel that such uniquely human characteristics such as language, emotions, psychological characteristics (e.g., the search for beauty, loyalty, human sacrifice, cruelty), religious beliefs also are technology? How have these evolved during the three periods of technology?

Gasset wrote his paper prior to the wide spread availability of television and the advent of computers (1936). Both of these technologies are capable of creating supernature realities. Do you think that if Gasset were to write his paper today that he would include a forth period of technology, one that is characterized by technology's being able to allow everyone (or at least very large numbers, the last episode of Seinfeld comes to mind), not just an individual to experience and/or create a "virtual reality" simultaneously? This shared experience of technology which is so easily created and available significantly affects how people view and how they choose to use technology. The Internet has made it possible for anyone to disseminate his or her thoughts easily (take for example this little analysis of Gasset's paper). We each now posses the power of creating and sharing our reality (as defined by Gasset) in a way never before possible. This new period would be characterized by the capability for anyone, not just the technician or the worker, to manipulate the technological reality.

Final question, how does Gasset's version of technology relate to education? Is education simply an aspect of technological man and a component of his or her supernature reality? Or, is education one of the pre-thing components that Gasset talks about, one of the ingredients or requisites necessary for technology?

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