Heidegger on Technology

“The darkening of the world, the flight of the gods, the destruction of the earth, the transformation of man into a mass, the hatred and suspicion of everything free and creative, have assumed such proportions throughout the earth that such childish categories as pessimism and optimism have long since become absurd.”

 Heidegger on Technology

Heidegger’s whole perspective on technology and the environment is linked to his conception of Being and Dasein. The best answer to the fundamental question of Being Heidegger comes up with Being is equal to Time. Being then is the unfolding of time, the revealing and concealing of beings. Thus Being is actually Becoming. Dasein is our way of being-in-the-world. Analyzing how we are in the world to find Being does not get us far, we actually have to ‘let Being be’ am to listen to what it reveals to us through the medium of Dasein. We can hear Being speak more clearly through art, poetry and music. Modern technology covers over Being and hides us from ourselves. This is because of the belief that the ‘I’ is the most fundamental idea and thus we are the more important being and the world is there for our use. This leads to the destruction of our environment; it is this limited avalanche lie process that Heidegger fears most and doubts we can overcome. For Heidegger our function, or nature, is to be world disclosers. Humans have modes of being that reveals Being. Both art and technology are techne and are ways of brining-forth being. Modern technology has evolved from its original form of techne, and in this Heidegger sees a danger to Dasein and also possible saving power.

 Heidegger on Technology

In essence technology is revealing. Modern technology differs from technology in the past, in that “revealing that rules in in modern technology is a challenging,” (Krell, p.14). This challenging “puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy that can be extracted and stored as such.” (Krell, p,14). We conceive of the environment as resource for our use and we stockpile it, “Everything is viewed as ‘standing-reserve’ and, in that, loses its natural objective reality.” (Beckman, p,4). This limits our view of nature and distances us from it. “Just as humans have progressively limited the being of the natural objects around them, Heidegger observed, they too have acquired a progressively limited character or being.” (Beckman, p,5). By continuing on this path man is “approaching the brink of the possibility of pursuing and pushing forward nothing but what is revealed in ordering, and of deriving all of his standards on this basis.” (Krell, p.26). As humans become nothing but the orderer of standing reserve we then risk where we will have to be taken as standing reserve.

The problem arises out of the process the essence of technology takes. “Enframing does not simply endanger man in his relationship to himself and to everything that is. As destining it banishes man into that kind of revealing which is ordering.” (Krell, p.28). It is enflaming that causes the danger in limiting the ways of revealing. This enflaming is beyond humanity in that “man becomes the subject and the world the object, is a consequence of technology’s nature establishing itself, and not the other way around.” (Dreyfus, p.2). Thus it is a process that people are involved with but did not create. This point may be debatable but it is an accurate description of what people do, and thus we still have to consider ways to broaden our limited perspective. Through enflaming we see that the goal of technology is the more and more “flexible and efficient ordering of resources, not as objects to satisfy our desires, but simply for the sake of ordering.” (Dreyfus, p.2).

Do we see evidence of people becoming standing-reserve? Hubert Dreyfus says post-modern instrumental world is giving way to way to hyperreality of ‘stimulators that seek to get rid of the limitations imposed by the read world.’ In today’s world information is replacing objects in our day to day lives and thus “both the subject and the object are sucked up as standing-reserve.” (Dreyfus, p.3). Information is endlessly transformable, our objective self is transformable, and it is Heidegger’s intuition is that treating everything as standing-reserve… makes possible endless disaggretion, redistribution, and reggregation for its own sake.” (Dreyfus, p.3). For Dreyfus the Internet is a prime example, where information is on hand at all times, we can shed the limitations of the real world, shed the real world entirely at times and we all becoming standing reserve. Video games can also be seen as an example, as we delve into a fantasy world at the expense of the real world in order to escape reality.

This makes humans lose sight of their essence and identity. Modern technology takes us farther from our own being. We become fluid and take on many personas if not totally disregarding our true selves. This “enables people to be many selves without having to integrate themselves or to use them to improve a single identity.” (Dreyfus, p.4). Furthermore, this leads to no anchor to our identity with no home sense of self or community, in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected through the web and disconnected locally. Feeling at home in us and our environments is an important idea for Heidegger, yet with our lifestyles and always being ‘connected’ at everyplace and every time we are becoming less aware of our environment altogether, more ‘at home’ chatting on Facebook than face-to-face.

The solution proposed is very much an attempt for humans to be more at home; that is, to set up local worlds. A world is a context and set of understanding we have in our being-in-the-world. These local worlds occur “around some everyday thing that temporarily brings into their own both the thing itself and those involved in the typical activity concerning the use of the thing.” (Dreyfus, p.6). Things that gather and ground us in our being; being which is intrinsically aware and involved with other beings. An example Heidegger gives of such objects that gather us into a positive relationship with other beings is a wine jug, which gather people into meaningful situations. This grounds ourselves back into our being and thus instead of taking oneself as fractured collection of skills we are in tune with technological flexibility. We must find technological things that not so much meet our desires, or collect for the sake of ‘having’ but opens ourselves to new ways of being ourselves. Thus we can explore new ways of being-in-the-world. Perhaps if we present ourselves authentically the internet could be a way of gathering ourselves into a consistent identity and also a way of communicating with others if not exactly face-to-face then certainly screen face-to-face. The example of Facebook, which could like all internet applications fracture your sense of self or it could collect aspects of your being-in-the-world to share with others, thus connecting rather than disconnecting. Video games that could disengage you from your environment and reality itself could also be a way for friends and family to interact together.

Yet we must resist the compelling urge to rely on the nature of technological devices or those that promote one style of interaction. Technological things demand certain skills without requiring that we take ourselves as having one kind of identity, just a collective of skill sets. Yet, as “disclosers we may even respond to technological things as revealing one kind of world among others.” (Dreyfus, p.11). Thus Heidegger’s saving power is our ability free ourselves “from having a total fixed identity so that we may experience ourselves as multiple identities disclosing multiple worlds.” (Dreyfus, p.11). Which may seem like a contradiction. Technology both does not let us settle on our ‘home’ sense of self while on the other hand fixes our identity. Yet it is a matter of how we interact with that technology, in how it either fragments our sense of self, denies our sense of self, disassembles us into a set of skills or it gathers us together, helps us define our selves and gives us a more complete sense of being interacting with other beings. Heidegger is pointing out that the saving power to this ordering is looking for other possibilities that gather us into local worlds. Different worlds of meaning that we create that let things ‘thing’. As to letting things ‘thing’, the average person does not pay attention to things in themselves, but then again, nor do we see everything as a resource. If we see things as things-in-themselves and make choices about how we relate to them or when to use them, then we as individuals can prevent seeing at least ourselves as standing reserve. “Technical choices establish the horizons of daily life. These choices define a ‘world’ within which the specific alternatives we thing of as purposes, goals, uses, emerge. They also define the subject we chooses among the alternatives: we make ourselves in making the world through technology.” (Feenberg, p,9).

Art aids in the saving power of technology. It is a mode of bringing-forth. It aids in the process of seeing the truth in things. We see equipment in its usefulness and reliability, but art works let the being of the thing shine forth. Artwork then plays a part in helping us broaden our perspective beyond the limiting of viewing things. It could be seen as a needed reflection. It opens a world and sets it up; a world where things are not just viewed as useful but in their essence. It is important to acknowledge that the world set up is displaying the thing in its true essence as part of the human world, since Dasein is never alone but in relation to other beings. So artwork is not meaningless creation or revealing but serves as a compliment to our reflection on technology.

Conclusion

Heidegger sees a problem with technology; not technology itself but how its essence is revealed. The solution to our losing our sense of self is to change our perspective. In essence technology orders in a particular way that restricts our view of nature. This way of revealing though in itself is not bad, it only becomes limiting when it closes us off to other possibilities and alienates us. On an individual level this broadening of our perspective is valuable and useful. On a societal level that change would be naturally far more difficult as we are rather entrenched in the enflaming process, which is also Heidegger’s concern and fear. It can be seen that creating local world with different meaning and different ways of being is becoming more useful it today’s flexible society, if we do not lose ourselves in the process.

“Only God can save us now.” – Heidegger.

Notes:

Dreyfus, Hubert Highway Bridges and Feasts: Heidegger and Boremann on How to Affirm Technology

Feenberg, Andrew  Hiedegger, Habermas, and the Essence of Technology

Krell, David  Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings 1972

Written by Nikki Albert
freelance writer and fiction writer

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