In a post a few weeks back, I mentioned my favorite philosopher of technology, Albert Borgmann. He teaches at the University of Montana. Over the next couple of days I would like to share a few paragraphs from my 2003 interview with him. in the exchange that follows, he differentiates between genuine burdens and those burdens we should not want to be rid of. We enter the conversation.....
Is this way of analyzing technology inevitably biased against technology?
No. In some cases devices make things available that we definitely would not want to miss. For instance, medical technology has given us freedom from many diseases, and gas and fuel technology gives us the warmth that furnaces make available. These are wonderful things. Philosophers of technology tend not to celebrate such technological achievements because they get celebrated all the time. Philosophers point out the liabilities—what happens when technology moves beyond lifting genuine burdens and starts freeing us from burdens that we should not want to be rid of.
What burdens should we not want to get rid of?
Consider, for instance, the burden of preparing a meal and getting everyone to show up at the table and sit down. Or the burden of reading poetry to one another or going for a walk after dinner. Or the burden of letter-writing—gathering our thoughts, setting them down in a way that will be remembered and cherished and perhaps passed on to our grandchildren. These are the activities that have been obliterated by the readily available entertainment offered by TV. The burdensome part of these activities is actually just the task of getting across a threshold of effort. As soon as you have crossed the threshold, the burden disappears.
Getting across that threshold of effort is crucial if we are to create the conditions where technology becomes less compelling. Think of those those times in a given day when you exercise the kind of effort Borgmann is talking about. You are resisting the drift.
P.S. Keep in mind that in 2003 when I conducted this interview, iPhones were not on the scene (2007) or iPads (2010). Ten years from now, given the technological devices that will surely be captivating our attention then, the kind of effort Borgmann names here will be more crucial than ever.