Technology and the Human Condition

From Clockworks2
Jump to navigationJump to search

Gendron, Bernard. Technology and the Human Condition. New York: St. Martin's, 1977.

A three-part discussion of the benevolence and/or malevolence of technology. "Part One: The Utopian View" examines the contention that technology "will eliminate scarcity and disease, . . . improve communications and education, and . . . undermine aggression, prejudice," and other bad things. Notes that "Utopians," who see technology as positive, see "major world problems as 'technical,' rather than as 'political' or 'ideological.'" "Part Two: The Dystopian View" examines the proposition "that technological growth in the long run generates or intensifies many more social evils than it reduces or eliminates." "Part Three: The Socialist View" presents the Socialists' insistence "that technological growth is a necessary condition for social progress," but is still "far from a sufficient condition for overall social progress" (3). BG finds the Socialist position most promising.


Of immediate interest (Roman numeral for Part, followed by running numbers for chapters):

I.3 "Technology, Growth, and the Postindustrial Revolution" (see below).

I.2 "Technocracy: The Silent Transition

II.6 "The Brave New World Reconsidered

II.9 "Runaway Technology"

II.10 "Alienation and Nature"

III.11 "Who Rule: Capitalists or Technocrats?"

From I.3: Starts in 1950 with "Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics" announcing the "'Second Industrial Revolution'" — Vonnegut in Player Piano suggests it might be the third — "spearheaded by the development of the computer and other communications systems, and buttressed by breakthroughs in electronics," which encouraged the "Utopians" to foresee (or wish for) "a postindustrial era in technology." Gendron spends the rest of the chapter exploring the possibility of that postindustrial era, and a "revolution" in tech that might be the equivalent of the Agricultural Revolution (of the Neolithic — with perhaps smaller "revolutions" with business farming and our recent "green revolution" with bioengineering, targeted chemical killers, and such —RDE)[1] and the First Industrial Revolution of the 18th c. f., with steam power, the factory system, etc. Raises the question important, period, for humans and for the arts,

"What is it that distinguishes modern computer and communication systems from the earlier kind of technological innovations (such as the automobile and the atom bomb) that allow the former but not the latter to be called postindustrial (rather than industrial) technologies? In what sense is the introduction of computer, communications, behavioral, and managerial technologies to count as a major revolution in technology, while the invention of the internal combustion engine and the atomic power plant counted only as important developments within an already existing type of technology (that is, industrial technology)?" (p. 29).

Summarizes that, among other things, in the late 20th c. labor productivity in the U.S. has increased sufficiently to allow a high per capita income;

"(2) the primary outputs of the system of production are services rather than manufactured goods; (3) the primary factor of production is human expertise rather than inanimate capital; (4) the primary unit of productive planning is the integrated national or world economy, rather than the individual firm; (5) workers increasingly are functioning as machine monitors rather than machine operators — that is, automation is replacing mechanization (6) the major new machine technologies are, for the most part, informational technologies rather than power technologies" (p. 36).

And Gendron offers a handy table (#3.1) summarizing still more finely the "Differences Among Agrarian, Industrial, and Postindustrial Technologies" (p. 27). Gendron's conclusion in this section is that "There is good evidence [...] that advanced societies are entering some sort of postindustrial age in technology. Automation and informational technology are clearly on the rise" (pp. 37-38). And Gendron foresees

"that technology in the postindustrial age will exhibit sustained growth. After all, technology has been growing for several centuries, and post industrialization does not seem to have undermined the institutional and cultural incentives for growth. Rather, the introduction of informational technology, the stress on human expertise, the perfection of planning techniques, and the trend toward automation all clearly create new opportunities for productivity growth and hence technological growth. Indeed, they may well set the stage for unprecedented high rates of technological growth." (p. 38)

The implications of that growth for "the Human Condition" will be the basis for much argument and art in the following decades.

RDE et al., initial; RDE, finishing, 19Jan23