I'm not sure what to think of your extremely broad and flat definition of technology. Numerous analysts (Hiedegger comes to mind) draw a distinction between handcrafted tools like flints and mass-produced artifacts such as iPhones. It's all empty space smeared with electrical charge when you get down to it, but that doesn't usually prove the most useful framework for navigating this material world. As fraught as all concepts of nature and its opposites are, I say the narrative of increasing technology/artifice/artificiality in the modern era has merit. Your position that computers, cars, buildings, and so on merely constitute a variation on the inherently human theme of technology confuses more than it clarifies. From my specific historical perspective in the midst the world industrial economy, the differences between iPhones and flints outweigh their similarities. Even the notion of technological progress shouldn't be completely discarded. Increasing sophistication and efficiency has happened on the whole, albeit in the context of a system that threatens total ecological collapse (to name but one of its horrors). All other things being equal, shotguns and hunting rifles are more effective killing tools than flint-tipped spears and arrows. This trend of enhancement -- as uneven, troubled, and dangerous as it is -- deserves naming and contemplation.I reply:
Aren't you discarding all my insistence on material and historical specification? What you are calling my "broad and flat definition" is an intervention crafted precisely to undermine progressive and transcedentalizing narratives of "technology" because of the obfuscatory and reactionary ideological work I observe them doing. But I don't deny there are differences that make a difference between flints and cellphones, I just deny that it makes much sense to say that cellphones are more "sophisticated" than flints, or make their users more "technologized" in some important sense. I don't agree that the latter sorts of narratives actually DO contribute to specificity at all. From what perspective do you say a cellphone is more sophisticated than a chipped flint, given what the needs of a hunter-gatherer are? Can you replicate one, can most people forced to assemble cellphones under horrific conditions (usually, mind you, by hand) replicate one? Do you really think one is more essentially cyborgic in some meaningful way when you feel a cellphone vibrate in your pocket than is a hunter-gatherer sparking a killing tip blunted during the afternoon's hunt against a bone?
You go on to say "increasing sophistication and efficiency has happened on the whole" in a way that "deserves naming and contemplation." "On the whole"? What whole? I think this is nonsense, and I think you have already written elsewhere many times of the pernicious effects of such generalized progress narratives. You qualify this claim by referencing, say, unsustainable practices or the lethal, and I would say frankly illegal, mayhem of drone bombers -- but I have to wonder if it is enough to treat these as "exceptions" to some larger drama in which humans are technologizing into ever more "sophisticated" and "efficient" super-humans, rather than to grasp how these exceptions give the lie to the very idea of sophistication and efficiency presumably being yielded by "technology" otherwise "on the whole"?
From what position is one supposed to be declaring things more "sophisticated" on the whole? By what standard? I don't agree some kid playing a video game on his cellphone is more "sophisticated" than a hunter-gatherer staring exhausted at the stars. And efficiency? Efficiency is always efficiency in the service of some outcome as compared to some other effort -- I don't think it even makes sense to attribute it "on the whole."
Just look at the sorts of specificities that come into view if we attend to the sorts of things your "albeit" seeks to shunt under the carpet of this grand techno-amplification "on the whole" of sophistication and efficiency: High energy input-intensive monoculture that gets diminishing yields while destroying topsoil and losing the ability to fend off pests is hardly "more sophisticated" or "more effective" than permaculture alternatives any more than I would say long-distance weapons that kill civilians in ways we claim to disapprove of in our own propaganda or which facilitate alienation that undermines critical engagement with hostile terrain is "more sophisticated" or "more effective" than alternative techniques like complex diplomatic initiatives would be. Am I really supposed to treat these as quibbles, hiccoughs in the road toward an ever increasing sophistication and efficiency "on the whole"? I think specificities provide us the way to disapprove of these risky, costly artifacts and techniques as well as to disprove the benefits that are attributed to them compared to other options on offer, and I think my understanding of technology demands we attend to just these specificities at all times.
Unsustainable industrial agriculture and militarism are complex problems the details of which you are already familiar with so I won't rehearse them, but I do insist that embedding these details in big techno-progressive or techno-regressive or techno-convergence or techno-autonomizing or techno-transcendentalizing narratives will obscure them far more than illuminate their specific stakes to the actual diversity of their stakeholders. Sustainability, democratization, consensualization, equity-in-diversity are the ethical and political narratives I prefer to plug these material and stakeholder specificities into instead, which is I think more apt.
Like you, I am willing to concede a place for technodevelopmental progress as well. I say, technodevelopmental progress is what happens when the actual costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change are distributed equitably to the diversity of the stakeholders to that change by their lights as a consequence of ongoing social struggle. I think progressive agency is entirely located at the site of its personal protagonists, peer to peer, and that it is just as deranging to locate such agency at the site of "technology" as it is to attribute "intelligence" at that site -- something futurologists also mistakenly do all the time too, and for related reasons.
Definitely I disagree that "enhancement in general" is happening at all, or is even an intelligible locution, at any rate the way that discourse seems to me to be playing out rhetorically in the actual world of policy discourse and bioethics (blech). I think in embracing the current discourse of "enhancement" you are stumbling into another "on the whole" construction that functions to evacuate political and historical specificity again. Enhancement is always -- enhancement according to whom? Enhancement -- in respect of what? Enhancement -- together with what diminishment? Enhancement -- compared to what? Enhancement -- at what cost? There is no "enhancement in general" any more than there is "increasing efficiency on the whole." (Certainly there is no -- and heaven help you for even using the phrase! -- general "trend of enhancement." Ugh! As I say in my futurological brickbats: "Whenever I hear the word trend, I reach for my brain.")
Talk of "enhancement" seems to me to function precisely to evacuate existing stakeholder disputes and perspectival diversity from discussions of technoscientific change -- much as do narratives of naturalized progress, as against historical and social struggle accounts of progress -- in an effort to pretend that "technology" is delivering more More MORE and never at any abiding cost to anybody. Of course, you will notice that I am now accusing you of doing through "increasing sophistication and efficiency on the whole" and "enhancement in general" precisely what you began by accusing me of doing when I insist that "technology" denotes an ongoing collective struggle through which agency is re-elaborated prosthetically/ culturally in history, peer to peer.
I don't want you to think I am simply responding to your intervention with "I know you are but what am I!" You see, I think you were wrong to worry about my definition as flattening because "collective elaboration" is all about demanding the details you worry about losing, and disables -- at least this is my hope -- obfuscatory and reactionary teleological and naturalizing and de-historicizing narrativations of technodevelopmental social struggle. I think you think increasing capacitation "on the whole" and increasing enhancement "in general" ARE specific claims while I think they are illusory (and sometimes outright silly) perspectival effects and empty self-congratulatory commendations yielded by the kind of futurological discourse you are still employing, and in the service of whose ideology you are still a footsoldier, whether you like it or not, mirages behind which contentious historical specificities vanish in the service of elite incumbent interests and anti-democratic politics.