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Man and technology construct each other

Author  :  TANG XINGHUA     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-03-23

What is Technology?

What is Technology, authored by Hu Yilin, an assistant professor from the Department of the History of Science at Tsinghua University, integrates the history of technology with the philosophy of technology, and regards humans as manifestations of technology. The book also provides insightful explanations of the relationship between technology and art, how humans should participate in shaping the future, and the significance of cultural diversity to technological diversity.

One tends to examine technology from the perspective of function and effect, regarding it as a scientific application, namely, a technical appliance or a technical device. It is generally believed that technology is neutral, an opinion that ignores the intentional structure of technology and negates the value orientation of technology. Such a definition of technology and humans—technology is a tool external to humans, without any purpose, while humans are animals who use tools—cannot fully represent their internal relationship, and therefore cannot provide guidance for correctly handling their bilateral relationship and achieving sustainable development in a technological era. 

The author stressed that humans do not directly interact with natural environments and the surrounding world, but instead, interact through media such as technology. Media determines the “means of expression” for inner consciousness and the “modes of presentation” for external objects. Media becomes engaged in shaping all internal and external things, instead of serving as a neutral and transparent transmission channel.

As such, the author holds that technology contains two meanings: “externalization” and “internalization.” Externalization means putting internal knowledge into external appliances or products. It also directly refers to specific devices and appliances, which is the common understanding of technology in modern society. Internalization means that humans can internalize skills and techniques, turning them into personal abilities through learning. In this sense, technology and human beings are mutually constructed. 

Regarding humans as a technical existence and emphasizing the decisive significance of technology to humans is a profound new understanding of the man-technology relationship in a technological age, which denies the interpretation of humans and technology from an essentialist standpoint, instead, considering their relationship from the perspective of evolution.

Technology can define people because technology can be learned. Learning is the process of integrating human bodies with external articles, a process that internalizes external things into personal behaviors or habits, and at the same time externalizes human bodies. The essence of learning lies in the continuous “internalization” process, which leads to continuous construction and changes in concepts, habits, and stereotypes, and which shapes behavior patterns and cognitive structures. 


Tang Xinghua is from the Department of the History of Science at Tsinghua University.





Editor: Yu Hui

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