What Exactly Is Technology?
DEFINITION OF TECHNOLOGY
In our everyday lives, most of us use a number of words which we assume to have a universal, agreed-upon, and accepted meaning for all people in all contexts.
Often, the more frequently the word is used more we take for granted that our usage is the only possible usage of the term.
One word which belongs in this category is “technology.”
What is the meaning of the word “technology”?
The word “technology” comprises two parts – “technikos” & “ology”
The historical derivation of the term technology comes from the Greek word technikos, meaning “of art, skillful, practical.”
The portion of the word ology indicates“knowledge of” or a “systematic treatment of.”
Thus the literal verbatim derivation of the term technology is literally “knowledge of the skillful and practical.”
However, this definition is too general in nature and we have to transcend this narrow view of technology since every technology starts from a human purpose, with the intention to satisfy some human need or behavior.
Indeed, technology is the manipulation of nature for human purpose – yes, manipulation of nature; so let us use a slightly different definition of technology:
We will define technology as the knowledge of the manipulation of nature for human purposes.
This definition retains the notions both of knowledge and practicality (human purposes) but adds the new concept of manipulation of nature.
This implies that all practical or technical skills ultimately derive from alterations or manipulation of nature.
Technology depends on a base in the natural world but extends the natural world through the phenomenon of manipulation.
Since we want to manipulate nature, the ability to predict what nature will do when manipulated is most useful, indeed imperative.
By very definition, technology manipulates nature for human purposes.
Technology manipulates nature.
Man is a part of nature.
By manipulating nature, man manipulates himself.
Thus, technology manipulates the man, influences, even governs human behavior, and in turn societal behavior.
Technology is an entity which intervenes in the life of human beings in multifarious ways, directly or indirectly, trying to alter behaviors.
Thus Technology has an Ethical Dimension.
The very raison d’etre of technology is the human purpose.
What is the fundamental purpose of human life?
Is it to increase the standard of living?
Or is it to improve quality of life?
Or is it to have greater satisfaction in life?
All these various aspects can be distilled into a single holistic concept: VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE.
Thus the cardinal aim of technology is to enhance the value of human life.
VALUE OF HUMAN LIFE
The value of human life may be defined as the balance or ratio between satisfaction or happiness and pain or suffering.
Satisfaction or Happiness
Value of Human Life = ———————————–
Pain or Suffering
In the context of this definition, the ultimate purpose of technology is to enhance the value of human life, with a long-term perspective, by maximization of happiness and satisfaction and a concomitant reduction or minimization of pain and suffering (physical, mental and emotional).
As a generalization, people want a better life.
A better life can usually be transcribed as freedom from want, access to and possession of at least some of the nonessentials or luxuries, good health, a reasonable life expectancy, the absence of emotional stress, satisfying human relations (resulting from gratifying work experience), intellectual stimulation, and personally rewarding leisure activity.
HUMAN NEEDS AND VALUES
Human needs and values change through time as technology advances.
Man tends to accept the fruits of new technology more readily (satisfaction, happiness, comfort) whereas he is reluctant to accept changes in his personal life.
Thus social and cultural changes always lag behind technology causing a mismatch and disconnect which consequently leads to unhappiness, dissatisfaction, pain and suffering (emotional) and concomitant lowering of the value of human life.
A crude but practical way of classifying human values is to divide needs into those that are essentially physiological and those that are psychological.
Most new technologies cater to the physiological aspect by performing Dangerous, Dirty, or Difficult jobs (the 3 D’s) thereby enhancing the value of human life.
As regards the psychological aspect, an example pertaining to Information Technology (IT) may be in order.
Information Technology [ IT ] caters to two unique categories of psychological needs of humans:
Cognitive Needs which refer to the human need for information so as to be ready to act or make decisions that may be required, and
Affective Needs which refer to the emotional requirements of human, such as their need to do challenging work, to know their work has value, to feel personally secure, and to be in control.
Undue emphasis on cognitive needs and the neglect of affective needs may cause emotional pain which counterbalances the gains to cognitive needs and this may be detrimental to the “value of human life” as a whole.
Ethical Technology Management comprises a harmonious blend of rational thinking and empathic understanding wherein the interplay between human cognitive and affective processes are studied and analyzed.
It may be apt to conclude with a comment by RM Pirsig, who states that: “The way to solve the conflict between human values and technological needs is not to run away from technology. That’s impossible. The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barriers of dualistic thought that prevent a real understanding of what technology is… not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both”.