The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

/ technology

Initial thoughts on technology… it’s an ‘ology’ – a science – but the word is used more as a catch-all category for the artefacts and techniques of human practicality .  I’ve come to think of it more as a force, sometimes even a wilful or wayward one – as when you are staring up the left nostril of an important deadline and your computer crashes.  (Never let an electronic or mechanical device know when you’re in a hurry.  Whistle a tune.  Look nonchalant.)

One of the great drawbacks of our current relationship to technology (either as a science or as a category of objects) – which is also a reflection of various aspects of our social structure, economy, etc. – is the extent to which objects and systems are designed (and supported) by people who don’t actually use them.  I think this contributes greatly to our increasing surrender to semi-functional or dysfunctional systems, technical or social, on the premise that “that’s the way it is (or has to be)”.  The “small cog in a huge machine” metaphor is increasingly applied to all areas of our lives, and the implication is not only that as individuals we are incomplete, uniform and replaceable, but that we cannot comprehend the scope and purpose of that of which we are a part.  Bureaucracy is one of the results.  And don’t let me get started on bureaucracy.

About technology, the OED says its earlier meaning (from the early 17th C) was “A discourse or treatise on an art or arts; the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts”, and from just a little later, “the terminology of a particular art or subject; technical nomenclature”.  By the mid 19th C it was used to refer to “practical arts collectively”.  By the latter half of the 20th C it appears again in the context of study or discussion; “technology assessment, the assessment of the effects on society of new technology”.  (An interesting aside… technology has a homophone, tecnology – the scientific study of children.  Apparently the spellchecker here hasn’t heard of it.)

Grandma’s 1927 Funk & Wagnall’s has a very short entry on the word – “The science that treats of the industrial or useful arts, such as metallurgy, brewing, weaving, building, etc. . . . The nomenclature or terminology of an art or science.”  I like their notion of useful.  Note that texere is to practice an art of interest to technology.  (Lest you think F&W were Luddites, they also provide a highly detailed 1/3 page graphic of the Hoe Double Octuple Newspaper Web Perfecting printing press, with the rest of the page devoted to an explanation of printing technology and a list of related terms.  Text again!)


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