In my search for clarification about the meaning of the word “technology”, I came across this quote from Max Frisch: “Technology … the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.”
This quote struck me as particularly abrasive – its sweeping negativity about technology assumes that technology is tedious, unnecessary, and elitist. It suggests that our attempts to improve, develop, and invent are futile and ironically doomed to fail even if they succeed, by shutting us off from what is “real.”
I would, instead suggest that the purposes and goals of technology are much more varied and much more nuanced than Frisch’s snarky characterization. For one thing, I’ve had great difficulty trying to select a specific meaning for technology – finding that it can (and does) mean everything from art to knowledge to tools to techniques.
One definition of technology which I liked was, “the total knowledge and skills available to any human society for industry, art, science, etc” (World English Dictionary). I tend to restrict my definition of what is and is not technology to simply tools and objects – computers, chairs, pencils, knives, clothespins, etc., but this definition focuses entirely on knowledge and skill; what we know is technology as well. Our techniques and practices have been developed, honed, molded, tested, and re-formulated just as much as any physical object or tool we might use to achieve a task.
If we strip away all of the technology from the way we live, we go back much further than it would first appear. Without our knowledge, skills, and tools we would find ourselves crouched in the forest, naked and searching for food. Or as Frisch would say, “experiencing the world.”