“There is something eternal in a technical schema…And it is that (quality) which is always present and which can be conserved in a thing”.

Gilbert Simondon, in Cahiers du Centre Cultural Canadien – No.4, Deuxieme Colloque Sur la Mecanologie, Paris, 1976, p. 87.

Ways of Thinking Technicity I: The Philosophers of Technique

Here it goes some notes on the ways of thinking technicity from the concept and forms of appropriation of the term to the philosophical explanation of technical objects. What follows is a detailed appreciation of the term, which composes part of my ongoing research. This introductory text is divided in three parts:

Ways of Thinking Technicity I: The Philosophers of Technique

Ways of Thinking Technicity II: More Thoughts on Simondon

Ways of Thinking Technicity III: Framing Social Media

Let me then introduce some ways of thinking technicity under the perspective of the philosophers of technique.

+ Concepts and Forms of Appropriation +

Technicity is a term originally borrowed from philosophy which refers to the relationship between technology and humanity (or humans); this relationship can either be mutually co-constituted or not. When we speak of the concept of technicity,  we automatically look at the work of Martin Heidegger, Gilbert Simondon, and Bernard Stiegler. James Ash (2012) proposes a good way to summarise the philosophical thoughts on technicity, which I will briefly presented in this section. Ash (2012) places technicity in three ways of understanding: i) technicity as a persuasive logic for thinking about the world (representing Martin Heidegger’s thought); ii) technicity as a mode of existence of technical objects (relating to Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy); and, iii) technicity as an originary condition for human life itself (the proposition of Bernard Stiegler).

Martin Heidegger defines technicity as “the attempt of modern man to dominate the earth by controlling beings that are considered as objects”(Doyle, 2004, p.1), this definition is available in the Encyclopaedia Britannica 2000 and it is based on the translation by Hubert Dreyfus (2002) of Martin Heidegger’s der Technik (Krell 1993: Ch VII). Heidegger introduce an alternative way of thinking technology: a non-Aristotelian tradition of thought on technology or one that is not based on the concept of instrumentality (Frabetti, 2011). Technology is not just a tool, but part of process that is constitutive of human. “Technicity is producing beings themselves (producing nature and history) unto the calculable makability; unto the machination that thoroughly empowers the producibility” (Heidegger, 2006 apud Ash, 2012, p.189).

In the light of Gilbert Simondon‘s philosophy, technicity is undertaken as a result of the relationship among technical objects and humans; they are both part of a coevolving  and continuous process (neither dominated by man nor by digital object). This process goes from the level of the elements to the level of individuals, and thenceforth to the level of ensembles (Simondon, 1980, p. 78). Technicity thus is perceived “as a way in which technical objects exists in the world” (Ash, 2012, p.190). The technicity of  the technical objects (or the technicity contained in it) results in a technical mentality, which is on the one hand “coherent, positive, [and] productive in the domain of the cognitive schemas” , on the other hand, it is incomplete and in conflict with itself in the domain of the affective categories (Simondon, 2009, p.17). The technical object is composed (or  represented) by  “the unity of two layers of reality”: one stable and permanent and other layer that “can be perpetually replaced, changed, renewed”(Simondon, 2009, p.24).

“Technical mentality offers a mode of knowledge sui generis that essentially uses the analogical transfer and the paradigm, and founds itself on the discovery of common modes of functioning—or of regime of operation—in otherwise different orders of reality that are chosen just as well from the living or the inert as from the human or the non-human” (Simondon, 2009, p.17)

In the first case (when technical mentality is positive in the domain of the cognitive schemas), we have a mentality that manifests a transcategorical knowledge, such scheme of intelligibility “is particularly fit to grasp the universality of a mode of activity, of a regime of operation” (Simondon, 2009, p. 18), turning attention to machine´s functioning and regimes of activity. Two conditions are thus required: a distinction of subsets and of the modes they relate to; and, the understand of the machine in its entelechy – “if one wants to understand a being completely, one must study it by considering it in its entelechy, and not in its inactivity or its static state” (op.cit., p. 19). In other words, the technical object need to be well known and measured in its functioning; the technical object is divided into permanent parts, and parts subjected to replacement in order to be better comprehended; and, it has to be perceived as a structure and regime.

In the second case (when technical mentality is incomplete in the domain of affective modalities), Simondon (2009, p.21) states that the relation of Nature and the Human Being is constituted by a ‘complete technical schema’, and within this schema the processes of information contribution have different roles and different iterative and fragmentary regime of tasks. He makes an effort to overcome the antithesis between the artisanal and the industrial modalities with the intention to show they both “can be studied with greater likelihood of success”, positioning that the industrial organization of production “has pushed to its extreme limits the specialized fragmentation of human information contribution: the rationalization of work through a series of methods” (of which Taylorism was the first) (Simondon, 2009, p.21).

For instance, in the artisanal modality: the craftsman is the source of energy and information, the one who construct and repair. Meanwhile, in the industrial modality the source of energy and information is not the same; the entry of information “happens through several moments and at several levels” (Simondon, 2009, p.21):

First = it takes place with the invention of the machine

Second = it happens with the construction and regulation of the machine

Third = in the learning to work with the machine

Fourth = in the machine’s usage                                                            (Simondon, 2009, p.21)

At this point, man encounters the “discontinuous through work”; the entry of information “becomes divided and specialized”, as a result of the human nature; human beings tend to be isolated from nature and also from themselves (Simondon, 2009). Nonetheless, the industrial (or modern) society requires production that cannot be obtained by means of human body. In my view, this contradictory schemas (artesanal vs. industrial) is a way to show how machine and human being mutually reflect on (and complete) each other.

Now, to wrap up this brief introduction on technical mentality, I need to call your attention to a key assumption: the technical object is, at the same time,  ‘technical’ and ‘social’ meaning it has social importance, that can be expressed in various ways. That is to say technical mentality is not only developed into schemas of action and into values, but it also turns itself into a “thought-network”, “into the material and conceptual synthesis of particularity and concentration, individuality and collectivity–because the entire force of the network is available in each one of its points, and its mazes are woven together with those of the world, in the concrete and the particular” (Simondon, 2009, p.22).

Bernard Stiegler [1] claims that technology carries traces of past events and operates as a support for memory [2]; technical objects can register and transmit the memory of its use (Frabetti, 2011). Through memory we can have access to our own past and become aware of ourselves or “gain consciousness”; consequently and in line with Stiegler thought, we may say that “human beings can experience themselves only through technology” (Frabetti, 2011, p.7). Technicity thus refers to the capacity for technology to give humans an orientation in time (Stiegler, 1998 apud Ash, 2011, p.190)

Stiegler’s interpretation of the myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus introduces the process of taking a decision and the matter of temporality, in which human beings appear “as characterized by a ‘lack of quality’ or ‘a being by default’ (Stiegler, 2003b: 156 apud Frabetti, 2011, p.15).

Stiegler’s reworking of the myth clearly demonstrates how for him technology raises the problem of decision, and how this encounter of the human with decision in turn constitutes time – or rather, what Stiegler calls ‘technical time’. Technical time emerges because human beings experience their capacity for making a difference in time through decisions. Temporality is precisely this opening of the possibility of a decision, which is also the possibility of creating the unpredictable, the new.  It is for this very reason that the historical specificity of technology is central to Stiegler’s thought. The human capability of deciding ‘what to become’ constitutes temporality. (Frabetti, 2011, pp.15-16)

It is likely to assume that technology (in the relationship process with humans) establishes the now, and “it also opens up other possibilities for ways of establishing other forms of ‘nowness'” (Ash, 212, p.191). Stiegler argues that each technical object is capable to present different durations of temporality based on the material structure and interface of the object (Ash, 2012): “concern is always inscribed in a complex of tools and a tool is always inscribed in a finality that itself stems from a mode of temporalisation of temporality” (Stiegler, 1998, p. 264). The classical example is an individual who uses a hammer to hit a nail; first of all, the person must be aware of why doing this action (e.g. to hang a mirror or picture on a wall) which “implies a future outside of present experience”; secondly, the ability to use the hammer requires past experience or memory. “In this way, the experience of a ‘present’ or ‘now’ of perception (whether that be conscious or unconscious) is constructed from this equipmental structure. The ‘now’ therefore has no objective existence and only exists for perception as structured around a dual process of anticipation and memory which actively emerges from an equipmental structure of technology” (Ash, 2012, p.191).

+ More Concepts and Forms of Appropriation +

˚˚A dictionary definition

The Oxford Dictionaries define technicity [noun] is the “technical quality or character, technicality; the extent to which a people, culture, etc., possesses technical skills or technology”.

˚˚Originary Technicity

Martin Heidegger, Gilbert Simondon, and Bernard Stiegler refuse to think technology  or technical objects as mere tools because they play a pivotal role in society, and they are constitutive part of us as human beings and our culture.  Timothy Clark (2000) calls this tradition of though on technology originary technicity, borrowing the term from Richard Beardsworth (1996) (Frabetti, 2011). Clark claims that “no self-consciousness can be reached without technology” (Frabetti, 2011, p.5), and to illustrate his assertion he refers to The Turing Option, a 1992 novel by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky. The protagonist of the novel (Brian Delaney) needs to recover from a shooting accident, and to do so he has a microchip implanted into his skull in order to recover his lost memory and knowledge.

Originary technicity is a concept also adopted by Federica Frabetti (2011; 2012) in the field of Digital Humanities, who suggests that “a deep understanding of the mutual co-constitution of  technology (including digital technology) and the human is needed as an essential part of any work undertaken within digital humanities” (2012, p.162). The author uses the expression “co-constitution of technology and the human” to refers to the alternative thought on technology that starts with Martin Heidegger and includes authors such as Jacques Derrida (1976, 1994),  and Bernard Stiegler (1998, 2009).

˚˚Technicity of Attention 

Tania Bucher (2012) turns to Michael Foucault’s concept of ‘governmentality’ [3] to state the term technicity of attention, in so doing, she explains that platforms (e.g. Facebook) operate “as an implementation of an attention economy [4] directed at governing modes of participation within the system” (Bucher, 2012, p.1). In other words, Bucher places technicity as a form to govern participation on Facebook or as “a mode of governmentality that pertains to technologies” (op. cit, p.13). Technicity takes place (or it is realised) in three different forms: i) “an automated ii) anticipatory and iii) a personalised way of operating the implementation of attention economy on Facebook” (op. cit., p.2). The author looks at the details of the infrastructure of Facebook platform with the intention to understand how this platform generate and manage attention. In sum, technicity affords ways of thinking about the attention economy and modes of governing participation through the lens of technical conditions of the social media platforms.

Notes

[1] To Stiegler the problem with new technologies is that they exhibit  a “deep opacity” (1998, p.21 apud Frabetti, p.162), he affirms that “we do not immediately understand what is being played out in technics, nor what is profoundly transformed therein, even though we unceasingly have to make decisions regarding technics, the consequences of which are felt to scape us more and more” (1998, p.21 apud Frabetti, 2012, pp.162-163)

[2] “Although ‘technics is always a memory aid, ‘not every technics is a mnemo-technics. The first mnemotechnical systems appear after the Neolithic period. They form what will later become the kind of writing we are still using today’ (Stiegler, 2003a: non-pag.). For Stiegler every technics (for instance, pottery) carries the memory of a past experience; but only mnemotechnics (for instance, writing) are conceived with the primary purpose of carrying the memory of a past experience. In Stiegler’s argument, the emphasis is on the aim, or end, of different technologies: some technologies are conceived just for recording, others are not” (Frabetti, 2011, p.7).

[3] “Refers to the rationalities that underlie the ‘techniques and procedures for directing human behaviour’ (Foucault, 1997, p.81)” or better saying “mentalities or modes of thoughts that are immanent to ‘government’ or the ‘conduct of conduct’” (Rose et al., 2006). 

[4] See Goldhaber (1997): The Attention Economy and the Net.

References

Ash, J. (2012). Technology technicity and emerming practices of temporal sensitvity in videogames. Enviroment and Planning A, v. 44, pp.187-203. Doi: 10.1068/a44171

Doyle, Mike (2004). The Evolution of Technicity: Whence Creativity and Innovation? DATA International Research Conference 2004: Creativity and Innovation, at https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/bitstream/2134/2868/1/dot7.pdf accessed 14 December 2016

Frabetti, F. (2011). Rethinking the digital humanities in the context of originary technicity. Culture Machine, vol.12, at http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/431/461 accessed 14 December 2016

Frabetti, F. (2012). Have Humanities Always Been Digital? For an understanding of the ‘Digital Humanities’ in the context of Originary Technicity. In: Berry, D. M. (ed.) Understanding Digital Humanities. Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 161-171

Iliadis, A. (2015). Two examples of concretizationPlatform: Journal of Media and Communication, v.6 (2015), 86-95.

Monoskop  (n.d.). Jacques Lafitte, at https://monoskop.org/Jacques_Lafitte, accessed 15 December 2016.

Simondon, G. (1980). On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. University of Western Ontario,at http://dephasage.ocularwitness.com/pdf/SimondonGilbert.OnTheModeOfExistence.pdf accessed 12 April 2016

Simondon (2009). Technical Mentality. Parrhesia Journal , 7, 17-27 at http://www.parrhesiajournal.org/parrhesia07/parrhesia07_simondon2.pdf accessed 11 January 2017

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