History and Definition of Technology | John Dyer

From the Garden to the City by John DyerI'm chillin' on a blog tour promoting From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology by John Dyer. A post from me every week, plus more at host site: ChurchM.ag. Check it out..

Chapter 4: Definition

The history of technology is a wide landscape and John Dyer gives us a perfect fly over.  He writes that Aristotle is one of the first to use the word technologia, but he means it as systematic study (logia) of grammar, speech and writing (techne as a craft or art).  Tekton in Greek were essentially craftsman (Jesus' father Joseph was this! "Carpenter" is too narrow a translation).

The word eventually becomes the skill, study, tools, and things made with the tools.  And things start off slow until 1650. Dyer divides it like:

1650 to 1850 Larger more powerful machines to do human work Gun powder; mechanical Materials that Adam had Population doubles
1850 to 1950 Reproducing the human senses Photography and phonograph Used mechanical materials Population doubles again
1950 to 2000 Complex integrated solutions with social rules for use TVs, cell phones, and Internet Highly specialized, exotic materials Population doubles again

 

He's got a lot more in there, but I want to address Dyer's definition of technology, which he writes is:

"the human activity of using tools to transform God's creation for practical purposes"

I love the emphasis on the humanness (as opposed to "other than") of technology, and the theological lens of Creation.  But I'm uncomfortable by the language of "practical purposes" here.  Dyer is using this to distinguish these tools from, say, art (a distinguishing factor I'd need to quibble with… but that's not too important).

My issue is that the definition is particularly forced when it comes to communications technologies… and I Dyer provides an example at the end of his chapter of calling home using cell phones as "practical" and "transforming creation" that seems a bit stretched to fit this tool-oriented definition.

His solution, I think, is to see that humans don't only work, but that they also classify and play and commune in ways that create identity categories distinct from tool using. The way we communicate with each other in family and society is establishes meaning in a way that is independent from our making. By McLuhan's definitions of technology as extensions, our communicative thoughts and intents are amplified and extended into an environment that is difficult to describe as "practical" but easily identifiable as "human."

From oral language to chirography to print to mass literacy to the telegraph, radio, TV, and the internet, I think the thread of history of communications technologies may stand on their own… uniquely human and theological but not practical in this sense.

John, did I get you wrong on this?  What do you think?

(Also: more at ChurchM.ag)