What is technology? Technology as applied science and engineering clearly presents a relevant but limited view. It is, perhaps, a better definition of ‘technique’. The notion that what designers do with technology is to simply apply scientific knowledge would be to misunderstand both what science and technology is. While the issue of science will be addressed below, suffice it to say that because design cannot be value free, neither can technology in the hands of a designer. Missing are the realm of consciousness and judgment; value and ‘will’ remain untouched.
Jose Ortega y Gasset, in his essay “Thoughts on Technology”, presents a fuller view that reflects technology as going beyond pure application of empirical knowledge. He says: “Everything becomes clear when we realize that there are two purposes of technology: “One, to sustain organic life, mere being in nature, by adapting the individual to the environment; the other, to promote the good life, well-being, by adapting the environment to the individual. “Thus Ortega y Gasset distinguishes technology which is for survival from technology which is the result of will and desire. The point seems to be that technology must be recognized as going beyond minimal existence. In doing so, technology becomes integral with using our environment for what we see as good; values generate technology.
Carl Mitcham, a noted technology scholar, also sees ‘will’ as the core of technological activity. He identifies technology with three categories: “technology-as-knowledge (thought), technology-as-process (activity), and technology-as-product (object)”. These categories, however, do not pursue the reason for the why of technolog...
y. Mitcham insists that one must pursue the question about the origins and the meanings of technology, and thus the nature of volition.
David Billington establishes technology as consisting of two sides: machines and structures. Through this categorization, Mitcham’s object world is brought into play with Ortega y Gasset’s technological ‘adaptation of the environment’ (the structure). Although Billington is attempting to create distinctions between machines and structures, he begins by noting a close interdependence of the two “because structures are built by machines, and machines have structure to hold them together”. This rather obvious connection is the basis for presenting their essential distinction; structures are static and permanent, and machines are dynamic with a short life-span. He argues that change has been accepted over permanence and our connections with the past have been severed in lieu of our emphasis on the dynamics of the machine world. “We have neglected such ideals as repose, permanence, uniqueness of locale, and patience, all in our efforts to change, to adapt to change, and to mechanize life “It is significant to note that he places structures (architecture) into a particular place & shy; environmentally dependent & shy; distinguishing it from the machines that are designed to be independent of their environment. This is critical to architects because it also places an understanding of technology within the realm of place-making, a fundamental responsibility of an architect.
This issue of context, both physical and psychological, is an important one. The example of the hearth in a home serves to illuminate the issue. The hearth was the center, a focus of warmth
and family life. Because machines exist to reduce our burden in life, altering the traditional hearth (its operations, efficiencies and safety) has logically placed it within the realm of a machine. These positive gains have been accompanied by a loss of a connection to the character of a place that was the center of family life. The stove is now present in the kitchen as a machine, independent of its environment and not able to evoke nor support the making of a place. It is a functional object now disconnected from its past and from its ability to contribute to family life. It has been banned from the “structure technology” of permanence and tradition, and resides now in the dynamic “machine technology” of performance. In this sense, the stove as machine has become unresponsive to the environment it is within, unconnected to its context in the fullest sense. The design of a place to gather family life in all its complexities is fundamentally different than designing a machine to cook food on.
This realization strikes at the heart of technology’s relationship to architecture. If architecture becomes more environmentally independent, then it follows that it becomes more like a machine. If it is more like a machine, it cannot realize its full potential as a structure to re-orient technology towards a human significance that embraces values of place. Understanding technology in this sense reveals the very nature of architecture as technological event and technological event as human event.
Billington continues by comparing the ‘Structure and Machine’ categories to the ‘Art and Science’ duality. He links structures to art, whose evaluation lay in “…qualification, individual works, and forms…”13 while tying machines to scientific inquiry, a process that relies on data and analysis. This is another attempt to connect a specific understanding about technology to a larger context of society through conditions of our technological world. The argument Billington makes is at one level basic and not complete, but useful nonetheless.
Another view of technology’s relationship to science is found in Carl Mitcham’s third technological category of knowledge. While there is no intention of entering into the What is Knowledge question, one can select components of that question in order to clarify the relationship between technology and science. Science gives the most accurate description of our world.14 Equating technology and science defines technology as applied science. It is true that science provides a set of laws upon which we act but it is not a sufficient definition for technology. I. C. Jarvie, in his essay “Technology and the Structure of Knowledge” asks: “For what really is applied science? It is the applying of abstract theories to the world.”15 Albert Borgmann suggests that science has the ability to access itself in the search for a matrix of laws while technology is the transformative potential of these abstract principles.16 Jarvie places technology closer to invention rather than applied science and initiates a critical discussion of the difference between scientific truth and technological effectiveness. “Technology does have somewhat different aims than science, it aims to be effective rather than true & shy; and it can be
- Computer Science
- Mixed Economy
- Orders Of Magnitude
- Qualitative Research
- Reaction Rate
- Regulatory Focus Theory
- Roman Numerals
- Scientific Method
- Social Science
- Forensic Science
- Silent Spring
- Westward Expansion
- Artificial Intelligence
- Environmental Disaster
- Waste Management
- Plastic bag
- Environmental Issues
- Climate Change