CULTURE & TECHNOLOGY
WRITTEN BY ANDERW MURPHIE AND JOHN POTTS
INTRODUCTION: CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY
ART AND TECHNOLOGY
DIGITAL AESTHETICS: CULTURAL EFFECTS OF NEW MEDIA
CYBORGS:THE BODY, INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY
TECHNOLOGY, THOUGHT AND CONSCIOUSNESS
GETTING WIRED: WAR, COMMERCE AND THE NATION-STATE
LIVING WITH THE VIRTUAL
‘Culture’ and ‘Technology’
One is the fo!y of making predictions based on
speciﬁc technologies, or on new cultural formations
stemming #om technological innovation.
Any theoretical engagement with this thing ca!ed
technoculture needs to be as dynamic as its object
What is technology?
What is technique?
What is culture?
Culture and technology
what is technology?
The ancient Greek ‘tekhne’
In 1920s, the description of technocracy
The contemporary meaning of technology is both more abstract and
more speciﬁc. It involves cultural values, ideologies, ethical
concerns; it is also shaped by political and economic determinants.
Lorenzo Simpson: Technology is the constellation of knowledge,
process, skills and products whose aim is to control and transform.
Arnold Pacey: Technology entails ‘ordered systems taht involve
people and organizations, living things and machines’.
what is technique?
Technique can be deﬁned simply as the use of skill to accomplish
William Barrett emphasizes the centrality of technique to culture
and technology relations.
First, techniques are both a question of physical techniques and one
of associated techniques of thought. Second, sometimes it seems as
though we do invent technologies that can operate themselves.
Marcel Mauss: anything to do with working of our bodies involves
technique which is effective(it works) and traditional(it can be
passed on through culture).
What is culture?
Raymond Williams: culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in
the English language.
Two main senses to culture’s contemporary meaning, one speciﬁc and one general:
1. self-contained cultures, such as French culture or youth culture; 2. culture is as
opposed to nature.
‘technoculture’ entails not a division between technology and culture, but rather a
fusion of the two.
Culture is dynamic because ideas and values change quickly over time. Culture is
multiple because it contains the activities of different classes, of different races, of
different age groups.
The elitist 19th century notion of culture: stable, idealistic realm; Now it is messy,
confused and riven with contradictions.
Cultural signiﬁcance of the Internet: 1. the explosion of cultural expression on
Internet is an indication of the dynamic and unpredictable aspects of culture. 2. the
complex knot of issues arising from the Internet’s success exposes the folly of
treating culture as a separate stratum within society.
Culture and Technology
Brian Eno: culture is everything we do not have to do.
Technology plays a crucial role as well in the large-scale and
popular forms of culture.
Are technologies neutral in themselves, that is,
does the way in which they are used determine
their cultural impact?
Do technologies have intrinsic properties that
shape the cultures into which they are introduced?
Technologies of media
Is technology neutral?
Virilio and the technologies of speed
Thorstein Veblen: Technology determinism refers to that technology is the agent of
Victorian Period: Process is messured by industrial terms, like speed of movement
and volume of production.
Technological determinism tends to consider technology as an independent factor,
with its own properties, its own course of development, and its own
Alvin Tofﬂer: post-industrial societies need to protect themselves from the more
dislocating effects of automation and computer-based technologies.
Technological determinism usually refers to the present, projected onto the future.
Just as ‘we have no choice but to adopt this technology’.
Cultural effects deriving from technological developments are often
with regard to media.
Eric Havelock: the technology of writing, using the phonetic alphabet,
made possible new modes of thought, ﬁrst expressed by Plato.
Walter J. Ong insists on the signiﬁcant consequences of writing as a
Elizabeth Esenstein analyses the key role of printing press as an ‘agent
of change ’ in the Europe.
Jack Goody developed the notion of ‘intellectual technologies’.
Pierre Levy has appraised digital networking as the latest intellectual
technology to modify the ‘intellectual ecology’ into which it has been
A new technology creats a new potential and possibility for human
thought, expression or activity.
Technology of media
Mcluhan’s basic premise is that all technologies are extensions of
Mcluhan’s most famous idea - the global village - makes most sense
in the age of the World Wide Web.
Mcluhan argues that the cultural signiﬁcance of media lies not in
their content, but in the way they alter our perception of the world.
Mcluhan is emphatically a technological determinist, deﬁning
history by technological change.
Mcluhan’s main focus was the electronic mass media.
Walter J. Ong, a like-minded but more cautious scholar than
Mcluhan, also ﬁnds in the culture shaped by electronic mass media
a ‘secondary orality’.
Joshua Meyrowitz: the key to a medium’s cultural effect is not
found in its content, but in the way it conveys information.
The intrinsic properties of TV also favor emotion and spectacle over
reason and argument.
Baudrillard and the technologies of simulacra
Jean Baudrillard: contemporary culture is increasingly determined
by an array of technologically produced ‘simulacra’, which has
come to hijack reality itself.
Mcluhan’s optimism regarding the effects of electronic media gives
way to pessimism in Baudrillard.
Mcluhan’s ‘the medium is the message’; Baudrillard ‘the medium is
Hyperreal: more real than the real
It is important to know that reality was not hidden by this
simulation - quite the opposite.
The simulations move through the screen and the network in the
‘ecstasy of communication’.
We consume signs.
Fatal Strategy: at least alerts readers to the inﬂuence of these
Baudrillard is signiﬁcant as a latter-day technological determinist.
Culture materialism: the theoretical approach which foregrounds
the complex interplay of factors associated with cultural change.
Raymond Williams: his critique of Mcluhan is especially signiﬁcant.
Williams emphasizes social need and political intention as
signiﬁcant factors involved in technological development.
He explores the culture and social forces that created both the need
for broadcasting, and the institutional frameworks that oversaw its
Political decision-making determined the technology’s
implementation, and its cultural shape.
Brian Winston’s historical study of media technology follows the
Brian Winston: Inventors in any one period will respond to ‘social
necessity’. (supervening social necessities)
In the case of media technology, government regulation can play a
MacKenzie and Wajcman: a new device merely opens a door; it does
not compel one to enter.
The characteristic of a society play a major role in deciding which
technologies are adopted and how they are implemented and
controlled. (et. printing press and the clock in western and China)
Stephen Hill: the direction of change is a product of the particular
alignment between the technological possibilities and the society
and culture that exists.
Barry Jones, ‘car-based of the future’, L.A.. It is not the inevitable
cultural result of a new technology.
Luddism: English cloth workers who smashed textile frames in
protest at the industrialization of their craft - have their
equivalents in the 21st century.
Is technology neutral?
It is the way that technologies are used, rather than any intrinsic
properties of those technologies, that is crucial.
Barry Jones: any technological change has an equal capacity for
enlightenment or degradation of life, depending on how it is used.
Three kind of responses: 1. Mcluhan is forthright in his rejection of
it; 2. As for Pierre Levy, who is more circumspect, presents a note of
critical caution; 3. Like Max Weber, some want to expose the
political consequences of technological determinism.
Ellul, technology has become the system in which we live:
rationalize, all-encompassing and dehumanizing.
Neil Postman: the cultural decline furthered by an irresistible
Sadie Plant: the intrinsic properties of digital media are favorable
to those citizens traditionally marginalized in society.
Andrew Feenberg agrees that contemporary technology is so
inﬂuential that it cannot be regarded as neutral.
Lewis Mumford is scathing of the ‘technological imperative’.
Langdon Winner is certainly dismissive of the naive form of
Winner points out that certain technology necessitates political
and cultural responses by its very structure.
Winner: technologies are ways of building orders in the world.
Winner’s writing forms a synthesis between the technological
determinism of Mcluhan and the cultural materialism of
The gun technology would seem to refute the claim that the
technology is in itself neutral.
Knowing the world differently:
Poststructuralist is more likely to focus on the contradictory,
dynamic elements of culture, emphasizing the unpredictability of
language, culture or social systems.
Michel Foucault: civilization and madness are the result of cultural
and technical forces. There is no essential basis in truth.
Foucault: all knowledge is technical knowledge.
Going with the ﬂow -- ‘machinic’ thought
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: what we would normally
conceive as speciﬁc and isolated technologies are participants in a
broader natural and cultural ﬂow in a ‘machinic’ dimension.
Technologies can be studied not only in terms of their speciﬁc form,
but also in terms of their function and their various contexts.
Technology change is both continuous and discontinuous.
Technologies, like rivers and streams or developments in the arts,
also ﬂow. The artisan, here including new technologists and cultural
theorist, is involved with following these ﬂows as much as
Virilio and the technologies of speed
Paul Virilio: an urbanist, a Christian, a historian of military, a
political theorist, an art critic of technology
He asserts that we are losing our sense of space as we more and
more push the speed at which things move.
‘the aesthetics of disappearance’
Virilio explores the last moment of the struggle between metabolic
speed and the technological speed into which we seem to be
‘Politicize speed’, ‘chrono-politics’
‘accident’: technology provides something we would never predict.
The history of art is, a&er a!, a
history of technology.
Dose art reﬂect changes in technology
and social organization?
Is there any continuity between
modernism and postmodernism, or do
they represent radica!y diﬀerent
Artists represent technology
Modern to postmodern: Pop Art
Critical approaches to postmodernism
Postmodern media art
Continuity or discontinuity?
Technology in music
We should treat modernity as a historical period, while treating
modernism as a culture condition within that period.
Modernism was certainly not a universal culture condition in its
Political factors may intervene to thwart the simplistic equation of
industrialism, modernity and modernism.
Jurgen Habermas: modernity could only emerge when the present
was able to detach itself from dependence on the past.
The Enlightenment philosophers believed that through the
application of reason they could create a new society unrivaled in its
fairness and equality.
It was assumed, according to the new doctrine of process, that better
technology would produce a better world.
Artists represent technology
Charles Baudelaire sought to deﬁne a modern sensibility in
opposition to the classical French tradition. But his idea only went
Robert Hughes: cultre had been reinvented through technological
innovation occurring at an almost preternatural speed.
Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams; Albert Einstein’s
Special Theory of Relativity; Eiffel Tower
avant-garde: originally a military term, now used to suggest the
daring of those who ventured into new cultural territory, leading the
more cautious mainstream.
Great modernist artists: Abstract painters, Dada artists...
Chief objective of modernists: to ﬁnd new modes of representiation
that might reﬂect the changed world around them.
Futurists: the most pertinent and the most interesting group of
modernists from the point of view of technology and art.
F.T.Marinetti : art now could only mean looking forward, never
Futurist aesthetics valued the dynamic over the static, technology
Marinett’s embrace of technological progress was complete. Science
was seen as its “vivifying current”.
Other futurists looked to science and technology for their
inspiration. Balla, Boccioni.
Futurists’ resolve to develop an aesthetics of dynamism found
outlets across a range of media.
For a brief period, the Futurists extended the radical avant-garde
into a total way of life.
There are aspects of Marinett’s creed that certainly repellent; his
militarism and patriotism, combined with his gloriﬁcation of
technology and youth, fed into Fascist propaganda in the 1920s.
Mussolini’s Fascists offered a surer route to power.
Futurist ideas spread quickly across Europe, taking on varying
orientations in different environment. (Bolshevik Revolution)
Summarize: Futurists’ espousal of technology may seem utopian.
Yet by absorbing the properties of the machine into their art, thy
built a prototype that is still being used by artists.
Constructivists ﬂourished in the decade following the 1917 Russian
Revolution. They dedicated their art to the service of the state, in
their case the new Soviet state.
The artist was an engineer; art had to be a useful object in the radical
reconstruction of society. (ﬁlm-maker Eisenstein, montage;
Meyerhold, bio-mechanics in theater; Dziga Vertov, tenical devices
By the ascent of Stalin to power in 1924, avant-garde practice was
criticized as decadent formalism.
Peter Wollen observed “Americanization stood for true modernity,
the liquidation of stiﬂing traditions and shackling life-styles and
work-habits” in the early optimistic years of the Soviet Union.
Taylorism was the rationalization of labour on the method of the
machine. “time-and-motion studies”
Taylor’s method was implemented in Henry Ford’s automobile
factory. By extension, Fordism represented a new form of social
organization. (Charlie Chaplin’s satirical ﬁlm Modern Times)
Benjamin, “aura” meant that sense of distance, of unattainability
and uniqueness, surrounding great works of art.
Benjamin applauded the democratic consequences of art work
Benjamin: capitalist cinema could employ the same technical
apparatus for the opposite effect- the manufacture of celebrity.
Benjamin was grappling in the theoretical terms with the
paradoxes of technology in the modernist age.
The most inﬂuential embrace of technology and its transforming
powers was found in modernist architecture.
Bauhaus school, Walter Gropius, Modernist architecture, “form
follows function”and “ less is more” were the aesthetic tenets
implemented on an international scale.
Modernist architecture provides a spectacular demonstration of
the contradictions within modernist culture: a belief in progress
and rationalization on the one hand, a utopian desire on the other.
Modern to postmodern: Pop Art
The shift from a modernist cultural condition to a postmodern one
is extremely difﬁcult to chart with precision. We discuss the 1960s as
a transitional period between the modern and the postmodern.
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