Sunday, February 7, 2010

Week #5: Heidegger, Heidegger ...

The reading and subsequent discussion & analysis of Heideggers’ The Question Concerning Technology served to confirm & reinforce my views about technology and raised many more questions and trains of thought. I found the group presentations and discussion very informative – thanks to the class, many wonderful insights and examples! Reading Heidegger was a chore, however, he also has some interesting ways of stating things, and further readings help bring them out.

The major point Heidegger is making, as I see it, is that the essence of technology goes well beyond technology… “the essence of technology is by no means anything technological”. Heidegger tells us that technology is much more than a tool – something we have discussed many times in this course. We must constantly question our use of technology and the direction it takes us “questioning is the piety of thought”. Yet, as Heidegger points out we are “unfree and chained to technology”. Not only does technology play an increasingly important role in our lives, but does Heidegger also mean that it blinds us to other ways of viewing the world – such as through the arts? This idea applies to the use of technology in society and in education, and is one we should keep in mind. We certainly talk about using modern technological tools to enhance learning. It does offer many affordances never available before, yet it goes much further. We should discuss the use of technology with our students, what are the trade-offs? How does this affect the environment and our use of energy? How does this affect our relationships? How can we use the technology in sustainable ways? How can technology enhance our learning, our thought, our connections? How do we avoid the “ compulsion to push on blindly with technology” or to do the opposite and “rebel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil”? Heidegger tells us that where the danger lies, so does the “saving power”, thus we must keep the danger in sight. Again we see the importance of questioning, examining the path we are on – both back where we have come and forward to where it might lead us. Heidegger tells us that we cannot embrace technology blindly as simply a way to get things done, nor can we ignore it, we can’t just let it happen and we can’t “rail against it”. What do we do?

In a previous course (Critical Theorizing), I attempted to examine technology, and the digital divide, from a critical point of view. I came across a number of researchers who promoted a critical view of technology. Several points of view were common in the literature and echoed Heidegger’s; we could ignore the technology and hope it goes away, we could attack and blame technology for all our ills (technophobes), we could embrace it by jumping on the bandwagon and hoping for the best (technophiles, or a term I liked, used by Weaver & Grindall (1998): technomaniacs ), or use the technology in a thoughtful, critical way (‘critical technomania” – another term I liked). In the last view, we integrate the technology, but do so in a way that promotes learning, democratic values and social justice. We hear a lot of naysayers rallying against technology, telling us that Google makes us stupid, that reading and writing skills are deteriorating, and so on. The technomaniacs will dismiss such claims out of hand and carry on. I think we need to examine these claims and the research that also says the opposite, we should question all these ideas and use them to examine our practice. Once again, as Heidegger tells us “questioning is the piety of thought”.

Heidegger also talks about techne meaning the fine arts, and brings in poetry and other art forms as a mode of revealing. Our modern technology can be art and can help produce wonderful art (see the link to the YouTube video on sand art, I put in Nicenet, for example). But that is another discussion.

Finally, just for fun (if you are one of those rare breeds who appreciate the absurdity of Monty Python…) here is the Bruce’s Philosophers Song … enjoy!

Weaver, J. and Grindall, K. (1998). Surfing and getting wired in a fifth grade classroom: critical pedagogical methods and techno-culture. In Kincheloe, J. and Steinberg S. (Eds.) Unauthorized Methods: Strategies for Critical Teaching. (pp 231-251) New York: Routledge.


  1. You have posed some thoughful questions here, Mike. In response to the question, "What do we do?" I think you are on the mark when you say we should use technology in a thoughtful and critical way. I think it's all much ado about responsible use.

    You have said that techne means the fine arts. The way it is written, that is part of the meaning. It also says in Heidegger that it is linked to the word episteme, and "both words are terms for knowing in the widest sense." It also means to be expert in something. And, one more, it is also said to be a mode of aletheuein, which means mode of revealing.

    A term nobody has yet to bring forward in discussions is technological determinism. Perhaps that is a another way to describe Heidegger's danger element. Are we defining ourselves by technology? Are our values, as you say, "chained to technology?" Your comment about discussing the use of technology with students agrees with me. We need to teach about the ethical use of it. As you commented on James's blog, technology can be used for "hate, misinformation and reproduction of the current hegemony." What's the best way to use it? That's another question we all need to consider.

    I watched the Sand Art video. Amazing and beautiful. I have never before seen something like that. Thank-you very much!

  2. Mike, I just watched the full Frontline program Digital Nation. Thank-you (once again) for pointing us there. It was very filling food for thought. I even took notes!