Reflections on Apple2 : Heidegger : Technology


Excellent time at Apple2 last night. Alistair Duncan from The Garden kick-started proceedings with an introduction to Heidegger’s philosophical framework, and how this impacted his thinking on technology later on in his life after the scandals surrounding Nazism had died down a little.

Though his later language is more poetry than hard logic, Heidegger is trying to argue – or I am perceiving that he is trying to argue! – that technology in and of itself it not good or bad. What is dangerous about it, however, is that it creates a prism through which it is too easy to see the world as purely a resource for our consumption.

Hence, the invention of the saw is neither here nor there – the danger lies in seeing the world as things that can be cut up and sold.

What I took from this is an urging to be more reflective about the tools that we use. The mobile phone was summoned as an example many times last night, and is instructive here. Rather than simply celebrate the fact that a mobile allows us to ‘talk like angels’  – connecting to people 1000s of miles away, or simply criticising it for turning people into rude idiots, we should be reflective about its use. Is it right to take that call when I am walking and talking with someone physically present? What impact is it having on my ‘presence’ with people? And, with particular reference to Heidegger’s concern, to what extent is it turning me into a consumer?

It is this last element that I think is particularly fascinating. What branding does is to try to attach a story to a technology – this shampoo will make you have lovely friends and this iphone will make you a cool person and this loft apartment will open you up to a wonderful life. These stories are all attempts to get past the rather boring facticity of function, and being taken in by them is to be an unreflective consumer.

Heidegger would not want us to reject these technologies. But, if I’m hearing Alistair right, he’d want us to reflect on their use and make sure that we weren’t being led into a consumer-led view of our world whereby we can’t see a river without thinking ‘hydroelectric power’ and can’t walk in a forest without thinking of the paper we could make.

I think there are some strong theological lessons here. Taking the broadest view of tools to encompass even religion, to what extent is our tool-set still focused on personal profit and consumption? I think that it’s possible to see a critique of this consumer-tooled approach in Jesus’ temptations, which is something that I’ve explored in my new book, due out in July.


4 responses to “Reflections on Apple2 : Heidegger : Technology”

  1. There’s an English documentary film called “The Century of Self” that deals with a lot of this stuff–have you seen it?

    It’s on Google Video last I knew…if it’s not old news to you all I’ll post it to the Apple blog.

  2. No, not seen it, so yeah, post it to Apple. Look forward to it.
    Could arrange a screening.

  3. “What is dangerous about it, however, is that it creates a prism through which it is too easy to see the world as purely a resource for our consumption.”

    Yeah, I hear you. But our innate self-absorption doesn’t help things either. Whether the latest technology or a garden tool, we somehow, inevitably, make everything else all about us – something I think you were very much eluding to in your conclusion.


  4. I found the evening very stimulating so thanks for setting it up and to Alastair for his prep. I would like to sing in praise of technology because I find it much more than a tool but a window of wonder that helps me to understand something about the creativity and ingenuity of us as beings made in the image of a creator God. Here’s a great Youtube clip which kind of follows that theme