06 March 2008

Borgmann: Introductory Comments

Just some quick notes on Borgmann's introductory comments at the consultation this morning. I'll try to detail the rest of the conversation later.

Borgmann articulated three reasons it is important to understand technology: fear, mission, and our condition.

As regards fear, "we," that is, citizens of the US mostly, have a sense of not being able to take on the power structures that govern our lives -- that is, we are afraid of it. But not only that, because we live in the system we are all implicated in it. For this reason we are required to understand it.

As regards mission, Borgmann notes that often missionaries were the ones who introduced grammars and dictionaries into native cultures. The natives did not need grammars and dictionaries, as they were, well, natives. But in order to understand the culture to which we are to bring good news, we require those tools. Hence, we must understand technology to be good news in a culture saturated with it.

As regards our condition, Borgmann notes that we, as members of the culture to which we are to bring good news, are also suffused with technology, and that this technology (largely, but not exclusively, information technology) is invisible. In order to understand ourselves, we are required to understand technology.

And just a couple of fun quotes: hope, according to Borgmann, is found when people do something they know to be good. Or, quoting Henry Bugby (?), "There are certain things that cannot play you false."

A second quote, regarding why he (Borgmann) owns a cell phone. Apparently his children are concerned for his and Nancy's relative safety living on a mountain in, fittingly, Montana. So they have cell phones, and recognize that there is a certain moral requirement to do so. "It would be irresponsible, once it's available, not to have it." Borgmann recognizes that this sort of attitude can cause troubles, and follows up by arguing that there is always a continuum of use, never a sharp break, so that any line that is drawn, and lines are constantly drawn, is necessarily somewhat arbitrary.

Much disucssion ensued.


John David said...

Oh please. So the Amish are, en masse, an irresponsible community? I have no problems continuing my cell-phone-free flight from moral responsibility. I don't trust anyone who makes an appeal to "Responsibility". Niebuhr for example. These are the same people who prattle on about "rights." Neither, of course, actually exist.

BMG said...

Funny that you should leap straight to the Amish, as the other primary "official" source of guidance at the consultation was one Donald Kraybill, author of, among other books, The Riddle of Amish Culture. Generally that juxtaposition (Borgmann, Kraybill) was fruitful, and it is clear that B admires the Amish approach to dealing with culture, though, clearly, he does not agree with the particulars. His broader point about the cell phone was that the line is somewhat arbitrary -- why accept land line phones, for instance instead of disavowing phones at all?

As far as responsibility and rights, are you saying that "rights," as in, rights-scare-quoted do not exist, or that the actual honest-to-goodness non-scare-quoted rights do not exist? :) I generally agree with you that rights do not exist, or at least that an awful lot of things we call rights would actually better be called privileges or maybe goods. But I disagree as to responsibility. It seems to me that being in the same boat of human-ness requires some minimal sense of awareness, or looking-out-forness, of our fellow humans. Isn't that tantamount to responsibility?