Technology

Why would primarily a poetry and photography site talk about technology?

At a Christmas dinner in London, 1807, Keats met Wordsworth and Charles Lamb, who (very drunk) objected to a portrait of Newton hanging on the wall. Despite being the only Romantic trained in science, Keats agreed that Newton had destroyed the poetry of the rainbow, and wrote in ‘Lamia’.

‘Do not all charms fly

At the mere touch of cold philosophy? . . .

Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings, . . .

Unweave a rainbow . . .’[1]

In fact the Romantics were interested in science, even while disparaging it compared to the imagination, for example, Shelley in his ‘Defence of Poetry’. Poetry can take on any subject but aside from poetry, anyone with curiosity should be interested in the findings of how the world works, and how we are changing how the world works. Thales of Miletus is considered by many to be the first philosopher in that his thesis that water is the substance the world is made of, is an assertion not of origins as in traditional Middle Eastern cosmogonies, but a statement on the constituent element of the universe.

in the late 1950s, CP Snow, scientist and novelist wrote in the New Stateman that the wall between the sciences and the humanities, that of “two cultures” was divisive. “A good many times, I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice, I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold; it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: have you ever read a work of Shakespeare’s?” [2]

Science and technology have changed not only human lives but those of just about every living being on the planet. I am no technology determinist but tehnology shapes and limits what we see as possible. Opposed to technological determinism is technological possibilism, the view that technology does not exert influence on the forms of society but rather limits the scope of human action. (Does Technology drive History? Ed. Leo Marx, MIT Press, 1994.)

Don Ihde is no technological determinist.He argues that technology is culturally embedded and maintains: “The very structure of technologies is multistable, with respect to uses, to cultural embeddedness, and to politics as well. Multistability is not the same as neutrality. Within multistability there lie trajectories, not just any trajectory, but partially determined trajectories.” (Don Ihde, Bodies in Technology, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2002, p106.) Andrew Feenberg warns that technological determinism is a dualist and essentialist notion because it removes technology from daily life. He believes it is “a contingent process that could lead in many different directions.”

Science is important and its associated technologies have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, embrained, embodied. If technology has changed the nature of space and time for us, and how we travel, talk, act and think then as Andrew Feenberg  argues, ‘The fate of democracy is therefore bound up with our understanding of technology.’ (Preface to Questioning Technology, Routledge, 1999).


[1] John Keats, Lamia. See L221-38.

[2] C. P. Snow, Two cultures, art, science, (1959) 1963, Cambridge University Press, p14-15.

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