Critique of technology

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No technique is possible when men are free. ... Technique requires predictability and, no less, exactness of prediction. It is necessary, then, that technique prevail over the human being. ~ Jacques Ellul

Various critiques of technology have been offered, arguing that technology has become a means of domination, control and exploitation and a threat to the survival of humanity.

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  • In a society such as ours, it is almost impossible for a person to be responsible. A simple example: a dam has been built somewhere, and it bursts. Who is responsible for that? Geologists worked out. They examined the terrain. Engineers drew up the construction plans. Workmen constructed it. And the politicians decided that the dam had to be in that spot. Who is responsible? No one. There is never anyone responsible. Anywhere. In the whole of our technological society the work is so fragmented and broken up into small pieces that no one is responsible. But no one is free either. Everyone has his own, specific task. And that's all he has to do.
Just consider, for example, that atrocious excuse… It was one of the most horrible things I have ever heard. The director of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was asked at the Nuremburg trials, “But didn’t you find it horrible? All those corpses?” He replied, “What could I do? I couldn’t process all those corpses. The capacity of the ovens was too small. It caused me many problems. I had no time to think about these people. I was too busy with the technical problem of my ovens.” That is the classic example of an irresponsible person. He carries out his technical task and isn’t interested in anything else.
  • Jacques Ellul, as interviewed in The Betrayal by Technology (1993 film), 8:15

  • As long as technique was represented by exclusively by the machine, it was possible to speak of “man and machine.” The machine remained an external object, and man (though significantly influenced by it in his professional, private, and psychic life) remained none the less independent. He was in a position to assert himself apart from the machine; he was able to adopt a position with respect to it.
But when technique enters into every area of life, including the human, it ceases to be external to man and becomes his very substance. It is no longer face to face but is integrated with him, and it progressively absorbs him. In this respect, technique is radically different from the machine. This transformation, so obvious in modern society, is the result of the fact that technique has become autonomous.

  • We may quote here Jacques Soustelle’s well-known remark of May, 1960, in reference to the atomic bomb. ... “Since it was possible, it was necessary.” Really a master phrase for all technical evolution.

  • No technique is possible when men are free. When technique enters into the realm of social life, it collides ceaselessly with the human being to the degree that the combination of man and technique is unavoidable, and that technical action necessarily results in a determined result. Technique requires predictability and, no less, exactness of prediction. It is necessary, then, that technique prevail over the human being. For technique, this is a matter of life or death. Technique must reduce man to a technical animal, the king of the slaves of technique. Human caprice crumbles before this necessity; there can be no human autonomy in the face of technical autonomy. The individual must be fashioned by techniques, either negatively (by the techniques of understanding man) or positively (by the adaptation of man to the technical framework), in order to wipe out the blots his personal determination introduces into the perfect design of the organization.

  • Science brings to the light of day everything man had believed sacred. Technique takes possession of it and enslaves it.


  • Technology [is] the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it.
    • Max Frisch, Homo Faber, as translated by Michael Bullock (1959)

  • The technologist's mania for putting the Creation to use, because he can't tolerate it as a partner, can't do anything with it; technology as the knack of eliminating the world as resistance, for example, of diluting by speed, so that we don't have to experience it.
    • Max Frisch, Homo Faber, as translated by Michael Bullock (1959)


  • The normality of the world we live in is completely insane.
    • Godfrey Reggio (producer/director of Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982)), in MASTERCLASS: Godfrey Reggio, Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival, October 2014 [1]


  • In many places, above all in the Anglo-Saxon countries, logistics is today considered the only possible form of strict philosophy, because its result and procedures yield an assured profit for the construction of the technological universe. In America and elsewhere, logistics as the only proper philosophy of the future is thus beginning today to seize power over the intellectual world.
    • Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking, J. Glenn Gray, trans. (New York: 1968), p. 21

  • Democracy can hardly be expected to flourish in societies where political and economic power is being progressively concentrated and centralized. But the progress of technology has led and is still leading to just such a concentration and centralization of power.
    • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 3, p. 19


  • The bigger the system grows the more disastrous the results of its breakdown will be.

  • Many of our fellow citizens do not share the blind faith in the simple beneficence of all technological innovation. And because they do not share the corporealist, morally neutral, and in some cases atheistic world-view that they attribute (fairly or not) to science and scientists, they are reluctant to surrender the power of decision to the very people who they think are creating the problem.
    • Leon R. Kass, “Forbidding Science: Some Beginning Reflections”

  • Could technology, understood as the disposition and activity of mastery, turn out to be a stumbling block in the path of the master himself?
    • Leon R. Kass, “The Problem of Technology,” in Technology in the Western Political Tradition (1993), p. 9


  • The liberating force of technology—the instrumentalization of things—turns into ... the instrumentalization of man.


Cooper: You don't believe we went to the Moon?
Ms. Hanley: I believe it was a brilliant piece of propaganda, that the Soviets bankrupted themselves pouring resources into rockets and other useless machines...
Cooper: Useless machines?
Ms. Hanley: ..and if we don't want to repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th Century then we need to teach our kids about this planet, not tales of leaving it.
Cooper: You know, one of those useless machines they used to make was called an MRI, and if we had one of those left the doctors would have been able to find the cyst in my wife's brain, before she died instead of afterwards, and then she would've been the one sitting here, listening to this instead of me. Which would've been a good thing because she was always the ... calmer one.


  • Scientific and technological “solutions” which poison the environment or degrade the social structure and man himself are of no benefit, no matter how brilliantly conceived or how great their superficial attraction.


  • The twentieth century was the bankruptcy of the social utopia; the twenty-first will be that of the technological one.
    • Nassim N. Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (2010), p. 31


  • No new choices are introduced by raising the specter of disaster. These become opportunities for swearing new allegiance to technology. The solution is to discover new technologies that will correct and modify the harm either potentially or already caused by present technologies.


  • Today we have media … which actually specialize in the kind of obscenity which the cultivated, not the prurient, find repugnant. … It is contended that such material is the raw stuff of life, and that it is the duty of the organs of public information to leave no one deceived about the nature of the world. The assertion that this is the real world begs the most important question of all. The raw stuff of life is precisely what the civilized man desires to have refined, or presented in a humane framework, for which sentiment alone can afford the support. … One of the great conspiracies against philosophy and civilization, a conspiracy immensely aided by technology, is just this substitution of sensation for reflection.

  • Fanaticism has been properly described as redoubling one’s effort after one’s aim has been forgotten, and this definition will serve as a good introduction to the fallacy of technology, which is the conclusion that because a thing can be done it must be done. The means absorb completely, and man becomes blind to the very concept of ends.

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