Technology and the Production of Meaning
By John M. Goodfellow
Introduction: Therelationship of technology to the body-mind Chapter 1:
Communication technology Communication technology show how different
kinds of technology are appropriate for different things. Chapter 2:
Measurement technology Measurment technology show the progression of
our technologization of the world Conclusions: 12 of them
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Introduction: The Relationship of
Technology to the Body-Mind
key words: technology and culture, technology and society, history of
technology, philosophy of technology, taxonomy of technology,
consciousness and unconsciousness relationship to technology, technological
environment, technologies ecological relationships, technologies world view,
appropriate technology, technological sanity
Different kinds of technology facilitate different experiences
We live in a technological environment, yet there is no understanding of how
technology interacts ecologically with our body-mind(s). By providing a
taxonomy of technology based on the relationship of our body-minds to
technology I hope to provide the vocabulary for a discussion on how we
interact with technology. Particularly I want to deal with the question of
what it means to be technologically sane. The symptoms of technological
insanity are frustration, insecurity, alienation as well as disappointment. I
posit that the cause of technological insanity is both the unquestioning
identification with technology and its prerogatives or the rejection of
technology without the appreciation that we are technological beings.
The advantage of general theories is that by attempting to comprehend
the whole they can guide development as well as predict problems. The
understanding of technology and its relations has important
ramifications for the changing nature of work, education, consciousness
and happiness. It is also critical to understanding natural environmental
problems in the world at large.
The Merrriam-Webster's dictionary defines technology as applied science,
but isn't science as much applied technology as technology is applied
science. It seems to me that the question of which is more basic, science
or technology, is a chicken and egg type of question.
Ask someone on the street for an example of technology and they will
probably give you something like computers or microwave ovens. Popularly
technology is thought of as "high tech" or cutting edge, not the common place
technology like drinking glasses and accounting systems. Ask what effect
technology has on their lives and they will probably tell you that technology
makes their lives easier or worse.
The popular Pro-Anti technology argument about how technology interacts
with our body-minds is dichotomous and silly. The Pro technologists report
how technology makes us wealthier and our lives easier. "That bomb in the
passenger plane was a "technological accident". The Anti-technologists on
the other hand point to the mass layoffs that computers have made possible
and say, "we're not controlling technology, technology is controlling us" and
they shout it out of a battery powered megaphone. Regardless of the
argument one makes technology is us, we would have to invent it if it didn't
exist. There is no human culture that doesn't use artificial technology. We
can not survive without our technology and our relation to it is always
On this premise runs my thesis on how technology interacts with our body-
mind: Technology mediates our experience of Reality. This premise is
derived from a popular tradition which I take back to Lewis Mumford and his
study of the machine and the machine's environment. later Marshall
McLuhan extended the idea of a mechanical environment into the electronic
What is needed is a general understanding of how different kinds of
technology interact, both similarly and differently, to each other, with our
environment at large, both social and material, and with our bodies and
minds. It is the ecological premise that all things including me exist in an
ecological relationship with everything else. One must always be cognizant
of the fact that a theory is an intellectual technology of the mind and not
Reality never repeats itself but technology makes it appear to. For example
the calendar and the steam engine both present reality as if it repeats itself
when in fact every year is a different year and every bread wrapped by a
machine is a differernt loaf
of bread though they have similar characteristics. It is the seeming
repetition of technology that gives us the experience of reality as repeating,
and makes meaning, knowledge, understanding culture and consciousness
Technology mediates our experience of Reality and creates meaning by
making Reality seem to repeat itself.
When we are first learning to use a technology we are very conscious of the
way that our body and minds are mediated by technology, "lets try that again,
practise makes perfect, one more time". Kids learning to drive a car with a
clutch jolt their teachers out of their seats but soon become proficient enough
to lay 30ft smoking tire"burn outs". After a while the way that a technology
works becomes 2nd Nature and the technology becomes embodied.
Different technologies have different proficiencies associated with them.
People new to computers take a while to embody the way they work and
must form new intuitions. This kind of intuition is qualitatively different
than the intuition that someone using a card catalog or an oiler working with
a steam engine acquires. These skills once they become embodied become
part of the users subconscious then unconsciousness.
Once technology becomes unconsciously embodied this experience is often
mistakenly applied to reality as a world view. In ancient times gods with
specific attributes ruled heaven and earth, in Victorian times the world was
understood as clockwork, in contemporary times we tend to see the world as
data. Understandings of reality, world views, change as our technological
If my premise is correct that technology mediates our experience of reality
then different kinds of technology imply different experiences of reality.
When we use a gun we have a different experience of reality than when we
use a bow and arrow even though there are similarities as well. The different
technology means that the experiences and the possibilities are different. A
useful way to differentiate technology on the most macro scale is as either
Natural technology or Artificial technology. Both natural and artificial
technology present. reality as repeating.
Natural technology is the body-mind and is based on heredity. My hand-eye
is a Natural technology to me just as digging claws and nose are to a mole.
Natural technologies mediate reality directly. Artificial technology is created
technology. This "pen" is an example of an artificial technology. Artificial
technology mediates reality abstractly. Natural and artificial technology
propagate different experiences of reality and hence different world views.
Some plants, like sunflowers have organic processes that allow them to
follow the sun like the way a satellite dish tracks a moving satellite. As an
experiment I rotated a house plant every day 90 degrees. I thought the leaves
would go horizontal to catch the rays of the sun but they went vertical. Both a
sunflower and my house plant use their natural technologies to interface with
Different Natural technologies mediate reality differently. Animals have
many natural technologies that allow them to exploit their natural
environments. In birds, thick beaks are used for cracking nuts and thinner
more delicate beaks for digging out grubs. Though qualitatively different, a
Woodpecker's beak is as much a technological entity as a jackhammer. Our
animal nature is always present as Natural technology.
Animals not only share similar natural technology with humans but some
artificial ones as well. Crows use cars to crush nuts, rats use levers
connected to an electric switch to stimulate the pleasure area of their brain.
Chimps and apes are able to sit up enabling to use their hands and
feet to manipulate their environment and carry things. They use small sticks
to clean their teeth and preen with, use rocks to break nutshells, sticks to
get termites out of termite holes. Monkeys also can use electronica nd
mechanical buttons to recieve rewards. We share much natural technology
with the animal kingdom, especially mammals.
While many animals use their natural technology in ways similar to humans
it is humans who have devolved to rely on their artificial technological
environment. By using their artificial technologies humans can survive in
every natural environment on
earth and even in space. We live in houses not trees, we don't rely on our
blubber and fur to keep us warm, we cook our meat we don't eat it raw. Take
away our artificial technologies and we could not survive anywhere.
Artificial technology is an abstraction of Natural technology and does not
exist without this connection. For instance we use our mind-bodies and fingers
to push "the Button" or to grip the steering wheel on our cars. Autonomous
technology only exists in Science Fiction. Artificial technology comes
between our body and mind creating body/mind.
Using different kinds of artificial technology implies different experiences
of reality. For example if I fly to New York in an airplane or I drive my car
I will have different experiences. The use of different artificial technologies
means that I will have different experiences of reality.
There are four general kinds of artificial technology, each delineated by the
way that they interact with our natural body/mind. These four Artificial
technologies are; Contingent, Formal, Mechanical and Electronic. Each kind of
technology mediates different experiences of reality hence different world
Any technology we hold or that we interface with is contingent to our body-
mind and is a Contingent technology. We associate cultures that primarily use
contingent technologies as "primitive", though we use contingent technologies
ourselves. Tools are archetypally a Contingent technology. A hanuner or an
axe is a tool that abstracts the arm with a difference. Associated with tool use
is the telling of stories both didactic and mythological. This is because tools
take skill both to make and use that is qualitatively different than a found
object. Once those skills have been mastered the tool takes on symbolic
qualities. Contingent technologies are contingent to the Natural and hence
tend to mediate our experience of reality as mythologic.
Formal technologies conceptualize (make borders around,
standardize, domesticate, rank into hierarchies) the Contingent
mythological experience of reality. Institutions are archetypally a formal
technology. The pyramid was not built in a day but required massive
institutional planning and carrying out of assigned tasks and logistical support.
This is done by hierarchical-institutionalized control and using people as
concepts Le. differentiating workers into trades. Palaces, schools, hospitals and
writing are examples of formal technologies. A formal unconsciousness orders
reality into hierarchies.
Mechanical technologies arrange Formal conceptions in a lineal way.
Machines are archetypally a Mechanical technology. Machines are
mechanical technologies that connect energy to work in a lineal, cause-effect
way. For example a steam engine connected to a pump moves water out of a
well into a field or a water wheel turns millstones, grinding wheat into flour.
Machines may derive their energy from many sources, such as humans,
animals, falling water or heat from coal and wood. A mechanical world view
Programmable electronic digital computers and light bulbs are examples of
archetypicalElec tronictechnologies. Digital programmable computers and
light bulbs have qualities distinct from their mechanical counterparts.
Computers allow us to do many tasks near instantaneously, and seemingly in
the same place. By speeding up mechanical lineal connections to the speed of
light electronic technologies mediate our experience of reality as ubiquitous
(existing everywhere at the same time) which facilitates an aesthetic of
Each succeeding stage of technology relies on a relationship with all the
others to produce meaning. For instance this computer requires my
coordinated lineal hand motions on the keyboard as well as a mechanically
generated power source and an understanding of the form of language and
how computers work.
Experiencing reality through all four of these types of technology is imperative
to experiencing the fullness of meaning in our Artificial environment. It is a
historical and anthropological/archaeological truism that as cultures come to
terms with the technology in their presence not only their physical culture
changes, but their social culture as well.
To be teclmologically sane is to be familiar with the bias's of each kind
of technology and to take that into consideration when reconciling
oneself to reality.
In the next chapters I will make these four stages clear by explicating their
historic and anthropological/archaeological development using some key
technologies. Key technologies fit the pattern of the four Artificial
technologies neatly, and easily show the relationships amongst the layers
The development of Communication teclmologies demonstrate how each
stage of technology continues to be relevant. It also shows how the
development of meaning as knowledge is encoded technologically.
Measurement technologies demonstrate the progression of technological
development and how different stages are appropriate for different uses.
Chapter 1: Communication Technology Show
How All Kinds of Technology Retain Relevancy
All beings communicate within their internal and external environments.
Plants communicate with pollinaters such as birds and bees, an animal's heart
communicates with their brains and their groins, humans have developed
within a communicated social environment that has become natural to them.
To be technologically sane would be to integrate different kinds of
communication technology. To be technologically insane would be to identify
with one's communication technology.
Natural communication-memory technology
The technology of memory and communication give experience the
illusion of repetition and reality meaning. Which came first memory or
communication technologies is a chicken and egg question. Where there
are communication technologies there are memory technologies. Memory
and communication developed together. Each kind of communication
technology has a different kind of memory.
Memory is intimately related to communication both Natural and Artificial.
When a one celled animal gropes at food, a plant leans into the sun or a
sexual animal makes contact with a mate both natural technologies of
memory and communication technologies are at work. Natural memory and
communication is both genetic; brains, nervous systems, muscles in animals
and basic sensory systems in plants, like knowing which way is up and down
and adjustment to light, as well as learned behavior.
For humans external communication and memory are emotionally derived.
Our emotions are our response to life and our natural communication is the
signaling-gesturing and reading of these emotions. We communicate feeling
with other living things through gesture, pleading eyes, arm waves, etc. My
dog knows what it means when I ask him if he wants to take a
walk because his memory associates the way that I say the word as a gesture
that is accompanied with feelings. I have a harder time communicating with
ants beyond poking them with a stick. External Natural communication in
animals is emotionally motivated gesture.
To use a mechanical metaphor, gesture may be thought of as output and the
senses as input or feedback to the body-mind. Some animals such as parrots
and chimpanzees communicate with humans. Whether such a communication
is a language or not is open for dispute. Whether animals use language or not
it is clear that they can communicate with one another, and us, and I can
prove it every.time I call my dog or admire a gooses mating ritual. Gesture is
different than language because the signal that is communicated is immediate
and lays more in the realm of emotional feeling than abstract meaning.
While Natural technologies of communication and memory are innate and
modified through experience, Artificial technologies must be learned and are
culturally based. In the Artificial realm something means not itself, like a cry
of anguish means anguish, but refers or symbolizes something else. This
something else is often Artificial as well, hence the problem of meaning and
clarity in language and measurement.
Artificial technologies: Language
There are four kinds of artificial communication technologies: speech; writing;
printing machines; electronics
Contingent communication-memory technologies: speech
Natural memory technologies interpret sign, artificial language relies on
interpretation of symbol. A symbolic language requires a qualitatively
different memory than gesture and senses. Symbolic memory-communication
is an abstraction of Natural technologies of memory-communication.
With natural communication every sign has a direct reference to the stored
experiences of the body and mind. We come out of the womb prepared to
sign our emotions but not to symbolize. We must learn to speak. There are
no human cultures which
don't communicate in a symbolic way. In speaking our natural
technologies must be redirected in an artificial way. What starts out as
gestures is by the age of 5 a sophisticated communicable symbolic oral-
aural or hand-eye (sign language) language. With speech reality
becomes perceived symbolically/mythically.
Meaning in contingent communication is derived from use. With the
invention of oral-aural symbols to evoke non-present sensations and feelings,
knowledge is invented. Oral knowledge is traditional knowledge and reflects
the immediate cultural environment. Sitting around the campfire or dinner
table telling stories such as where and how an animal was hunted, a vegetable
gathered or news of a clearance sale gives an advantage to social groupings.
Socio-technical knowledge is codified contingently in terms of rhyming
poems, stories, parables, aphorisms and anecdotes and with physical memory
The most simple memory aids are like the string that is tied around your
finger to remind you of a dentist appointment. Ancient Peruvian cultures had
elaborate systems of strings, colored strings, feathers that facilitated
administration of their territory called quipus. North American Indians also
had knot and object systems that was used to communicate and to
In the European middle ages, when basically everyone but the priests were
illiterate, heraldic badges, banners and flags were used to distinguish one
royal house from another and to remind one of the story of the bearer. We
use trademarks (the golden arches) and road signs in the same way.
A basic way to remember contingently is to portray experience with
pictures. Writing originates from both sculpture and drawing/painting which
are ways of communicating contingently. The oldest trace of communication
technology are cave paintings. A Plains Indian buffalo hide has a different
picture for each year commemorating the history of the tribe. A
commemorative statue serves the same function.
Formal communication-memory technologies: writing
Communication-memory in the formal mode is through writing. In all cases
formal communication is an act of recall of stylized memory to communicate
out of context.
Formal writing comes out of using pictures and sculptures as a memory aid
for accounting purposes. Pictures were drawn on the outside of jars to
describe the content within and sometimes the quantity, pieces of clay were
formed into tokens to convey similar meanings. This was helpful when
keeping track of tribute and taxes as well as business.
Writing in 2-dimensions comes in two main forms, ideographic and
syllabic. Ideographic writing like Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese
ideograms evoke ideas and concepts while syllabic language recalls the
sounds or syllables of oral-aural language like this alphabet.
Unlike speech communication, writing is decontextualized in time and place.
A formal apprenticeship and education gives a context to the way that the
symbols are interpreted and formally standardizes their meanings. In this way
great oral epics like Gilgamesh, the Bible, and Homer's Odyssey and llliad are
passed down from an oral tradition to a literary one when the culture learns
writing. The Formal conceptualization of meaning leads to the
institutionalization of knowledge.
While oral-aural language is learned from use, written language is learned in
formal hierarchical settings. It takes about 30 years after oral proficiency to
have a firm grasp of ideographic Chinese and 6 or more years for alphabetic
writing. An alphabet does not take nearly as long to learn because there are
only 26 characters as opposed to thousands. Still as every schoolchild, parent
and teacher knows even though most of writing is governed by rules there are
words that are not spelled like they sound but must be learned one at a time.
Mechanical Communication-memory technology: printing machines
While hand stamps were made in all literate cultures a printing machine takes
communication-memory to a qualitatively different stage. An example of
mechanical communication technology is the movable type printing press.
Before the printing press in Europe texts were studiously copied by monks in
scriptoriums. With the printing press information and knowledge
takes on a lineal form both literally in the standardization of punctuation,
the numbering of pages, creation of indexes, table of contents and
sequencing of subject matter, and also in the machine nature of the printing
The printed word reduced the price of a book drastically by using mass
production lineal methods which spread reading and writing to the population
at large. By using the Latin script to signify indigenous, so called vulgar,
languages the market for cheap printed material spread, new markets opened
up such as women and the novel and mass literacy becomes possible.
Elizabeth Eisenstien has pointed out that the results of the printing press not
only organized information and knowledge in a lineal way but also facilitated
scientific exchange by reproducing technical drawings in a way not possible
to copy out. Some of the medieval monsters being the result of trying to copy
copies of drawings.
One of the features of the printing press is that it produced exactly the same
product over and over. When errors were found they could be corrected in
the new edition. This tendency to rationalization is a hallmark of other
mechanical technologies such as measurement.
Electronic communication-memory technologies: electronics
While most electronic communication-memory technologies are in their
incunabula period, imitating print, we are beginning to see some qualitative
differences in things like the Internet. On the one hand the Internet can be
seen as a data retrieval system on the other as a qualitatively new
phenonoma. Electronic technologies simulate the mechanical lineal cause-
effect but the connections are speeded up to close to the speed of light.
Computer designers are always complaining about the limitations that the
speed of light imposes in designing faster and faster computers. This
explains the characteristic electronic technologies tendency toward
instantaneousness and ubiquity.
One of the original electronic communication technologies was the
telegraph. Contemporaries wrote about how the telegraph "annihilated II
space and time. What they should have said is that electronic technology
annihilated the existing perceptions of
space and time. While before information could travel only as fast as
transportation could carry it (excepting visual semaphores) the telegraph sped
communication to the speed of light. The quality of space and time have
changed in radical ways as shown by contemporary physics. ie chaos theory,
Einsteinian and quantum physics, etc.
With this new technology when a man bites a dog in Podunk California today
it is reported simultaneously in Seattle and New York City as well as Tokyo
and Paris. The phone, fax machine, radio and TV and especially computers on
the Internet all share this ability to communicate close to instantaneously over
Marshal McLuhan calls this interconectedness the global village which
implies everyone knowing everyone else, I prefer the older term the spread
of civilization or creeping urbanization which implies that its the city's
culture of strangers that is spreading into every nook and cranny of the
world not village-think. The earth is becoming urbanized as anyone
anywhere is connected and effected by what goes on in every other part of it.
Just as the printing press has a technological bias to present information in
a lineal and rational way so the computer presents information as
ubiquitous and encourages an aesthetic of intensity. The more intense the
information or experience the more it stands out of the deluge in
Contingent, formal, mechanical and electronic technologies are all still relevant
to our functioning in a social environment. Keeping in touch with our
technological environment in its entirety is essential to our technological sanity.
Understanding these four different phases has important ramifications for the
changing nature of work and education. Speaking is as important as ever, kids
still need to learn to read and write. We are currently in a state of denial about
the importance of mechanical rationalization as we confront the challenge of
becoming computer literate as we fall for the hype.
Don't believe the hype -Public Enemy No. 1
Chapter 2: Measurement technologies show
the advancement of technology
Measurement technologies reflect and extend what is known. Some people,
like Rene Descartes and Sir Isaac Newton, believed that only those things that
can be measured can be considered real. In their world, if it can't be measured
it doesn't exist. Measurement technologies are how we relate the unknown to
the known. The 4 different kinds of measurement technologies reflect different
kinds of understandings of the world or world-views, not reality. To be
technologically sane would be to incorporate these different world views. To
be technologically insane would be to identify nature as data.
Natural technologies of measurement: recognition of siz e
A rat will not jump farther than it thinks it can make and I will not eat
anything bigger than my head. Crows are able to recognize the difference
between numbers of objects up to four but, like us, they recognize the
difference without counting. Recognition of size and number is a simple
form of measuring but more abstract than a Natural genetic code that gives
a flower 24 petals or me ten fingers.
Do this experiment get 7 coins or pebbles or anything you can hold in your
hand. Choose a number of them and show them to a friend. Most of us can
recognize 4 or 5 immediately without counting, 6 or 7 usually have to be
counted to know how many there are.
For example how many XIS do you recognize without counting XXXXX
how many here XXX or here XXXXXXX or XXXXXIIIIIXXXXX or here
II. This experiment shows that without counting we can only keep track of a
small amount of things. We may try to recognize groups of three but can't
recognize groups over 4. Counting above 4-7 is not innate. Numbers must
be learned just as the letters of the alphabet must be learned.
Artificial technologies of measurement Contingent Measures:
one to one correspondence
The basis of artificial measurement technologies as such is counting. We can
count things that we consider the same in some specific and/or general sense
5 pears equals 5 pears, 2 apples and 3 oranges equals exactly 5 fruits. The
fiction that one pear is the same as another is easier to grasp than that an apple
and an orange are similar. Counting is not an innate ability but must be
In the U.S.-English language we don't have words to specify over three things
other than numbers. We have words for "a" sheep, "a couple" of sheep, "a
few" sheep and many sheep. Anything above 4 must be numbered to convey
specifically how many. In cultures unfamiliar with writing the quantity of
quantities greater than four can be contingently counted using a one to one
correspondence, for example a pebble for every sheep (our word calculate
comes from the word calculus meaning small stone) or fingers (digits). I use
my fingers for counting days of the week and determining how many coffees
and teas I need at a meeting.
Our limited ability to innately recognize higher numbers than 4-7 explains
why there are so many contingent measures, if one measured something
large one used a large measurement. The pace is a good measure for
determining the length of a garden while the finger is better to determine
the amount of liquor in a glass. Other measures such as the yard, the space
between your nose and forefinger, are a better measure for determining the
length of a piece of cloth than a pace or a bushel (originally a bushel was
as much as you could carry) .
The recognition of night from day is a natural technology based on internal
chemical and external stimulus. Not so obvious is the distinction of morning
and evening from noon, noon being when the sun is directly overhead. For
longer periods of time longer measurements are used. For example using the
moon's waxing and waning periods for lengths of time longer than a day.
Knotched bone moon calendars have been used by many prehistoric cultures
as a way of keeping track of the phases of
the moon and the number of moons for such things as meetings and feasts.
Many people cross out the days on their calendars as they proceed through
the week. this is a vestigial contingent system.
A way of keeping track of even longer periods of time is recounting of ones
ancestors and related stories Le. the great flood of Grandfathers day or the
Buffalo hide of the Native Americans with pictures of the most significant
event of the year. Today we still use holidays and special events to place
occurrences in temporal context. The Contingent measurements of time are
derived from use and have a one to one correspondence.
My dog had a lump on his throat so I took him to the veterinarian. The
vet described the lump as the size of a walnut. This is a contingent
measurement that I could relate to so the next day when I felt the lump
again I could determine that the lump was bigger than a walnut. The
emergency room vet described the lump using Centimeters but this was
not relevant to me in my home because I don't have a set of calipers.
Contingent measures are "handy", convenient. Contingent measurements
are derived from use. Contingent measures are used today by both
"civilized" and "uncivilized" peoples. It is the conceptualization of this
contingent symbolic experience that leads to the next stage where
experience becomes formalized.
Formal Measurements: institutionalized standards
The first formalization of counting using numbers appears with writing in
ancient Babylonian and Egyptian temples as a means to keep track of
inventory accumulated through tribute, taxes and other means. This is also
where the formalization of measurement occurs and for the same reason.
The invention of numbers is a formal technological invention directly related
to the invention of writing. Number systems allow a great quantity of things
to be counted within the same system so that comparisons between quantities
can be made. The formal system the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians used
was based on sixty and twelve. The formal Sexagesimal system has the
advantage that it can be easily divided in the head into 1,2,3,4,5, 6, parts
without using fractions. With any
kind of notation of number there is the possibility of keeping track of the
quantity of something, accounting is facilitated by units of measurement.
Measurements are formalized when physical standards are kept by the
religious or political authority. Formalized measurements, like formal
communication facilitate understanding when language becomes
decontextualized in space and time by writing. The original formalized
physical standard of a foot may be an actual king's foot which becomes the
formal measurement standard that all other feet must be equivalent to when
compared to it. In the same way the palace's scribes determined the
meanings of written symbols.
With the formalization of measurements a multitude of measurements
derived from use become obsolete or redefined using an institutional
hierarchical conceptualized standard. For example inches become
correlated with feet and feet with cubits and yards etc. etc. There are still
various sizes of standards so that fractions are kept to a minimum. For
example we do not say that this table is .00104 miles long but 6 feet.
An example of a measurement that was redefined in other ways is the acre.
While contingently the acre was the amount of land that could be plowed in a
day, formal definitions related the acre to area (length X width). Space, like
time, weight, area, temperature, etc. are Formal concepts created by the
consolodation of many units into a few standard units.
The coordination of quantities of people is also facilitated by the use of Formal
measures. By coordinating the workers through hierarchical control the
builders of the pyramids could specify the number of "Royal cubits"
(forearms) and refer to a physical standard allowing different workers with
different forearms to coordinate their work using measuring sticks derived
from the standard.
A great invention of formal measurement is the annual-celestial calendar.
When we say that "Spring is late this year" it is not Spring that is late but our
calendar conceptions which are early. The solar calendar is dependent not on
the Contingent environment but on astronomical observations and has a
predictive power much different then the natural signs of the season.
This power was used in ancient Egypt where there is not much distinction
between seasons but the Nile floods predictably at the same time of year
when Sirius, the dog star, rises on the horizon coinciding with the melting
snows in Vhe interior of ' Africa. Being able to predict the floods and use
other formalized measurements gave the priest-rulers enormous power to
coordinate labor's space and time on their estates.
The power to organize the year using a solar calendar was also exploited by
the Catholic church in Europe. The year was marked with planting and
harvest festivals and Saints days. The formal celestial calendar make the
seasons appear to revolve in a perfect God giv,en circle. But then the
inexactitude of the measurement of this circle led to a crisis in the 1500's in
Europe. The solar calendar that Julius Ceaser had put in place in Jesus's time
was not "in line" with the sun, stars or seasons any more. The Julian
calendar interpreted the solar year as 365 1/4 days like ours but every year
the calendar drifted 11 min and 14 seconds, enough of a drift so that after
fifteen hundred years the calendar was out of synchronization by about 14
days. The Gregorian calendar introduced an additional leap day every 400
years. The Gregorian rearrangement of the calendar coincided with the
height of the Protestant Reformation in
With formal measurements and writing rulers and priests can extract their
tithes and ta.xesin known quantities of commodities of grain, oil, domesticated
animals, metals, etc. with consistency. Formal measurement systems and
meanings meant that standardized and specialized commodities could be used
in an economic way. (The stamped coin attempted to formalize the value of
metal by regulating content and size.) Commodities are able to withstand
relatively long periods of storage which allows trade and commodity banking.
In contemporary times as well as ancient storage and collection of taxes, etc.
is carried out by specialized clerks familiar with bureaucratic accounting
practices in conjunction with memory aids such as writing and formal
Institutions are a natural place for such formalized technologies to originate
because they centralized hierarchical authority and provided a specialized
commune-ity where oral-aural agreement on meanings and rules could
formulate, and author/ity
prevail. Todays government, organized religions, schools, government,
hospitals and other institutions carryon this endeavor to codify behaivor
through policy and regulation. What had been before an arrangement of
convenience becomes formally standardized by institutional authority.
Mechanical measurements: rationalization
The needs of Machines introduced a different system. Mechanical
measurements are qualitatively different from their formal predecessor.
A machine which relates power to work in a lineal cause/effect way
needs a consistent measurement throughout so that the disparate parts
may be coordinated. This difference manifests itself in decimalization
In Greece and Rome the light of day was divided into twelve hours as was the
dark of night. As the seasons changed so did the length of the hours. When
using a sundial and the sun was out this was not a problem but how to tell the
hours of night without staying up and watching the stars. The first mechanical
clocks were water driven and used to regulate, amongst other things,
monastery life. In the late medieval days in Europe a mechanical alarm clock
that used gravity was invented to wake sleepy monks for late night liturgical
services. The word clock comes from the Latin clocca , meaning bell. The
mechanical clock keeps regulated horological time, identically long hours of
day and night. Mechanically derived hours were exactly same whether winter
or summer, rain or shine and could be projected into the future or transposed
on the past.
Mechanically derived measurements of Length were not formally defined
until the late 18th and early 19th century by the French and English. The
French developed the mechanically derived Metric system. The Meter was
originally defined as a ten/millionth section of the arc between the equator
and North pole through Paris as determined by mechanical surveying
Two crews started from known points to the north and south of Paris and
worked to the center. However, this was during the turmoil of the French
Revolution. Their lives were in danger many times both when they were
thought to be Royalist
sympathizers or Patriot revolutionaries. Their measurement in Royal Feet
Inches was surprisingly close considering the circumstances, however for
practical purposes a formal special-alloy metal standard was created to
approximate this natural ideal which was conveniently close to the French
equivalent of a Yard.
After the French Revolution the government legislated that time be
decimalized on a Macro scale. A day was divided into ten parts and the
week consisted of ten days and there were twelve months of 30 days a piece
with a 5-6 day patriot holiday to follow. The attempt to decimalize time met
with much resistance, perhaps people resented the longer work week, and
this resulted in the decapitation of the decimal architect of time. So the
Metric system still divides the macro units of time Sexagesimaly, though
seconds are divided decimally.
In 1824 the English system of measurements mechanically defined the Yard
as a section of a pendulum swinging a second of time at Greenwich thereby
linking time and space. This interpretation did not last long and soon both
the Americans and British were defining their yard as a decimal section of
the special alloy formal Meter kept under special conditions at the
International Bureau of \Neights and Measures, near Paris.
Both mechanical systems tried to unify all measurement to the lineal decimal
qualities of length, time, mass and temperature but on a popular level have
had only mixed results. In countries, like the Netherlands and Canada, that use
the metric system, recipes are often still given in tea spoons and cups or with
fractional equivalents 3/4 a Liter or 1/3 Kg. But like the U.S. and England
Machine parts that have the need for exactness past the tenthousandth place is
based on the Meter near Paris.
Decimalization is characteristic of mechanical technology's striving for
rationality. Decimals are easier to add, subtract, multiply and divide using
modem paper and pencil technologies and adding machines. We still use the
non decimal ways when ordering "a/half' or "a/third" of a piece of cheese but
use the decimal system when buying mechanically processed and packaged
cheese Le. 1.45 oz.
Electronic Measurements: ubiquitousness
While mechanical technologies tried to reduce all measurements to space,
time and temperature Electronic technologies try to reduce it to just time. The
electronic measurement of length becomes legally defined as the fraction of a
second it takes a photon of light to travel in a vacuum, 1/299,792,458 of a
second (notice how its not decimal). This standard may be worked out in labs
equipped to use electronically broadcast time signals. Electronically
determined measures are used by electrical engineers and in microchip
Time has been electronically reinterpreted as well. The prime unit of time is
now defined as a certain number of vibrations of the Cesium atom. Atomic
clocks keep more regular time than either the rotation of the earth or the
earth traveling around the
.sun, hence the introduction of leap seconds in order to bring sun time and
electronic-atomic time more equally "in line" with one another.
Weight and Mass however continue to be a bafflement. A KILOGRAM
was mechanically defined as a quantity, 1000 cubic cm, of water, but
who's water and at what temperature, etc. led to the creation of a Prime
Physical Standard, La Grande K. At the International Bureau there is
concern because La Grand K is losing mass faster than the secondary
measurements, national standards, which are handled much more often.
The evolution of measurement technologies has reflected the change in the
technological environment and reflects different relationships to reality.
Contingent measures encourage a mythological world view. The fish was this
big (hold your arms out). A formal measurement system enforces institutional
hierarchy and encourages a conceptual world view. When a mechanical
measurement is used it reflects a mechanistic world-view more appropriate to
machines than institutions or storytelling. It is more appropriate to use
electronically derived nano measurements when creating computer chips than
measuring a quantity of grain. To this day the more appropriate technology is
used over the metric zealots insistence of the ease of their system for all uses.
Conclusions: 12 of them
To review: Contingent technologies symbolic understandings becomes the
formal technologies when they are conceptualized which when organized
lineally are mechanical, with electronic technology the connections between
lineal concepts relate to one another at close to the speed of light making for
the existence of an environment with ubiquitous characteristics. Whew.
From studying key technologies and other technologies some
conclusions come to light.
1. The way we know reality is by re-cognizing it. While reality never repeats
itself, technology, by abstracting reality, makes experience seem to repeat
itself. Each kind of technology has a different way of manifesting repetition.
Contingent technology manifests repetition through return Le. foot sizes or
stories. Formal technology manifests repetition through rules Le.
institutionalized standards. Mechanical technology manifests repetition
through rationality Le. the definitions of the meter. Electronic technology
manifests repetition through information Le. what is the same information is
the same. Each successive kind of technological repetition abstracts the
2. Each kind of technology is related to different experiences hence different
states of consciousness. When using a hoe we use a different state of
consciousness than when using a tractor. Because different technologies are
associated with different states of consciousness they are also associated with
different states of unconsciousness. When a technologies way of understanding
is made unconscious we may see the world or even reality in the same way as
our technology hence people in the mechanical era saw the world and universe
as operating like a mechanical automaton or clock while many people in our
own era see the world through a computer as information. In reality one must
integrate natural as well as artificial experiences and understandings of reality
to keep sane.
3. Each phase of technology, Contingent, Formal, Mechanical, and Electronic,
may be thought of as a revolution in the sense that each is a radical return to
the previous technologies or a new phase of an
older technology. In Chaos Theory Phase implies the intermixing of
one with another and this is certainly true of technology.
4. Each revolutionary development of technology derives from a previous
established kind. Contingent technology comes from recognizing and
exploiting repetition of Natural technology. Formal technology comes
from conceptualizing this repeated experience. Mechanical technology
comes from organizing such conceptions lineally and electronic technology
derives from connecting lineal conceptions at the speed of light.
S. An implication of stages of technology is that for the Natural to interact
with Artificial technology ,one must do so through the successive stages or
modes. For example to interact with a standard computer one must use a
screen or printing device, be able to arrange information lineally, have some
kind of formal education and dextrous use of the fingers.
6. Each kind of technology promotes a perception of reality, aesthetic, that is
different than the others.
Contingent technology promotes reality as being mythical because what
is known is known. Reality is mediated through personal experience
and other's stories, showing and teaching.
Formal technology promotes reality as hierarchical, higher or lower made
up of ever smaller or larger conceptions, self contained ideas. The way that I
separate all Artificial technology into four conceptions is a formal analysis.
Mechanical technology promotes reality as being organized in rational lineal
cause-effect form. The printed book follows a mechanical format in that pages
are numbered and one element is followed by another in a rational cause/effect
way. A book is to be read from front to back unlike a hypertext. Not only do
machines manipulate reality in lineal ways but they are constructed that way as
well, the more lineal the machine the more efficient it is.
Electronic technology promotes a reality that is ubiquitous. It is the intensity
of an experience that sticks out and separates itself from the information
overload that comes with electronics. TV shows highlight violence and
intense love, hate but also multiculturism.
7. Technology doesn't exist in a vacuum but in a technological environment.
The different kinds of technology can also be understood as different
technological environments or climates. For example the way the two key
technologies measurement and
communication relate to one another in a mechanical environment.
On the one hand mechanical clocks organize labor in an industrial
print shop and on the other modified printing presses stamp out
Mechanizing cracker production leads to the need for certain types of
mechanical distribution systems like railroads and trucks. Electronic
computers rely on phone support systems and power systems. Stone tools
rely on knowing where the sources of the stone are and social groupings to
pass on the knowledge. Agriculture relies on storage and trade systems. You
get the point.
Technologies of a similar kind interact more easily and efficiently with
technologies of the same kind. For example contingent technology interacts
with other contingent technology more easily than it interacts with other
kinds of technology such as mechanical or electronic technology. The reason
that the same kinds of technology work well together is because they share a
similar experience of Reality and therefore interface n10re closely than with
technology that has a different one. An electronic phone interacts more
effectively with electric light or a computer than it does with political
hierarchy or a hammer. A phone and a hammer have very little they can do
8. A revolutionary technology simulates the one it replaces before its own
characteristics come to the forefront. The time period that a revolutionary
technology simulates the precedent technology is its incunabula period. The
word incunabula comes from the word for swaddling clothes. The best known
incunabula period was when type simulated manuscripts both in form and
For the first fifty years of type the typeface, format and market of printed
material followed manuscript precedent. Typeface looked like hand scratched
script and the books printed were those that had earlier been copied out.
When print came into its own typefaces strove for mechanical rationality and
changes in format made books easier to reference Le. punctuation, page
numbers, table of contents and indices.
In order for a new technology to replace an older technology the new
technology must be able to simulate the older technology. We are in the
midst of another technological revolution that's been going
on since the begilming of the19th century. Namely the Electronic
The revolution from horses to cars, and ships to planes are readily apparent.
What isn't so apparent is the continued evolution of horses, trains and ships.
With each revolution the older forms continue to evolve in new and
9. Each of the four kinds of artificial technology has related archetypal
technologies. Archetypal technologies are technologies that best show the
characteristics of the different kinds of technology.
Tools are archetypally a Contingent technology. Tools are direct extensions
of the human hand and eye. A hammer or an axe is a tool that extends the
arm and the mind's intention or will. Contingent technologies extend not only
the hand but the feet ears or any other natural technology. For instance a bike
pedal is a contingent technology as is a computer screen and they are not
tools. Power tools are still archetypally Contingent technologies because
they attach to our body-mind's though they have some Mechanical and
Political hierarchies are archetypally a formal technology. The pyramid was
not built in a day but required massive planning and carrying out of assigned
tasks and logistical support. This is done by hierarchizing control and using
people as concepts Le. differentiating workers into trades.
Machines are archetypally a Mechanical technology. Machines internal and
external relationships are very lineal. A machine channels power lineally
from a source of energy to work such as pumping water out of a well or
moving a train and its load. Machines may derive their energy from many
sources, such as falling water, heat from coal or wood, or a human or
animal. For Electronic machines all energy is electrical energy that has been
Computers are an archetypical electronic technology. Computers are coming
to have a role in many electronic technologies that have qualities distinctly
from their mechanical predecessors.
10. There are hybrid technologies that are composed of two or more
different kinds of technology. For example a gasoline powered car is a
A gas engine may also be thought of as a secondary mechanical technology
just as writing introduces a secondary as pointed out by Walter
11. If technology is the medium between Will and Reality then
technology mediates the relationship between Subject and Object.
12. Each kind of technology has a related work pattern and environment. For
Contingent technology it is craft work. Craft work can be gardening, hunting
or making arrowheads, or even clocks by hand. For Formal technology it is
institutional work. This can be agriculture, managing of slaves, medicine,
bureaucracy and the like. For mechanical technology this is Industrial work.
Not only working in a factory but also writing novels or being a mechanic or
supervising such work. For Electronic technology it is ? Electronic
technology is changing the nature of work Le. shifting work hours, temping,
networking on phone and computer called cubicle work. The word employ
originally meant "to fold into, involve, implicate or engage" (Websters
dictionary) and its further meanings have the connotation of something
intensely involved in. We will have to see what develops.
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