quinta-feira, 10 de junho de 2010

Simondon on technology

Por: S. Shaviro

Gilbert Simondon’s book on technology, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (On the mode of existence of technological objects), is not quite as rich as his books on indivduation (which I wrote about here). But it’s still fresh and thought-provoking (despite having been published as long ago as 1958 — it discusses vacuum tubes at great length, for instance, but doesn’t mention transistors), and it offers radical alternatives to the ways we usually think about the topics it discusses.

Basically, Simondon opposes the commonplace view (held alike by “common sense” and by philosophers such as Heidegger) that opposes technology to nature, and sees technology basically as a tool or mechanism for controlling and manipulating nature. Against this view, Simondon argues that technology cannot be reduced to a utilitarian function, because it is more than just particular tools used for particular purposes. Rather, technology must be understood: 1) as an ensemble; and 2) as a process of invention.

As an ensemble, technology involves more than particular tools or machines; it also involves the relations among these tools and machines, and the relations between them and the human beings who use them, as well as between them and their environments, the materials with which they interact.

Some technology, especially in its simpler aspects, takes the form of a single tool — a hammer, for instance — used by a particular person (a worker or craftsman) for particular tasks.

But most of the time, “technology” cannot be isolated in this way. Tools don’t exist in isolation; they are connected in all sorts of ways. They are connected, first, by the tasks they perform, which are increasingly complicated and require coordination all through the technical sphere. But beyond this, tools are interconnected because of the conceptual schemes that generate them: these same schemes, or designs, can be used in different contexts, in different materials, so that technology is transportable and transferable (“deterritorialized” in the vocabulary of Deleuze, who was greatly influenced by Simondon).

This also means that technology exceeds any narrow utilitarian purposes. As technology expands, its discovers and produces new relations between people and things, or between people and people, or between things and things. Technology is a network of relations: far from marking our alienation from the natural world, technology is what mediates between humankind and nature. It undoes the dualism that such a division implies, by networking human beings and natural entities into all sorts of subtle relations of feedback and mutual dependency. Far from being something deployed by a subject in order to dominate and control nature reduced to the status of an object, technology is what breaks down the subject/object polarity: it is always in between these poles, and it ensures that no human “subject” is free from and uncontaminated by the natural or physical world, while conversely, no “nature” or “materiality” is ever purely passive, purely an object. Every “object” has a certain degree of agency, and every “subject” has a certain degree of materiality; technology is the process, or the glue, that makes the idealist hypostasis of a naked subject facing brute objects impossible. (I do not know if Bruno Latour ever mentions Simondon, but the basis of much of his account of science and technology can be found here).

Technology is also necessary to the expansion of knowledge, according to Simondon. It is not the mere application of scientific knowledge, so much as it is the precondition for there to be such a thing as scientific knowledge: if only because scientific knowledge is generated when technology doesn’t work as expected, when it breaks down or deviates from its utilitarian function. Even (or especially) in its failures, technology is still “working.”

Another way to say this is to note Simondon’s second point, that technology is a process of invention. That is to say, it is a continuing process, not a fixed product. Tools are not just passively used; they are reconfigured, reinvented, extended and mutated in the process of use. Simondon writes that the “alienation” that has been so frequently noted in modernist discussion of machines, is not the consequence of technology per se; nor is it just the result of exploitation in the Marxist sense, the fact that workers do not own or profit from the machines that they operate (though that certainly plays a role). More fundamental, Simondon says, is the fact that factory workers are not able to participate in the active construction/invention/reconfiguration of their machines, but are only allowed to be their passive operators. In a truly technological culture, where invention and operation would be combined, this alienation would not take place. Decades before the fact, Simondon is here theorizing and advocating what today would be called hacking and hacker culture. Indeed, I think that the culture of hacking still has not caught up with Simondon, in the sense that hacking is mostly justified in pragmatic and/or libertarian terms, whereas Simondon adds a third dimension, a depth, to hacking by showing how it is essentially tied to technology as a basic component of human beings’ presence in the world.

There are a lot more themes and arguments in Simondon’s book that I haven’t been able to bring up here — for instance, his theories on the evolution of technology (which is not simply parallel to biological evolution, but differs from it in certain crucial ways), and on the relation of technology to other basic human activities (religion, art, science, philosophy) and to the split between “theory” and “practice” (Simondon does not consign technology to “practice”, but insists that it is prior to the split, and that a better understanding of technology would help us to overcome the duality between theory and practice). But there’s a lot to think about here, and I haven’t been able to absorb it all in just one reading.

Extraído de: http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=298

0 comentários: