August 26, 2016

C. Wright Mills on technology as an index of cultural progress

"In our time, must we not face the possibility that the human mind as a social fact might be deteriorating in quality and cultural level, and yet not many would notice it because of the overwhelming accumulation of technological gadgets? Is not that one meaning of rationality without reason? Of human alienation? Of the absence of any free role for reason in human affairs? The accumulation of gadgets hides these meanings: Those who use these devices do not understand them; those who invent them do not understand much else. That is why we may not, without great ambiguity, use technological abundance as the index of human quality and cultural progress."
                                                             C. Wright Mills, 1959


  1. I'm a computer consultant, dabbled in programming databases a while back. I shared the utopian, democratizing vision of computers and the internet to a limited degree and for a brief while in the 1980s and 90s. As the World Wyde Web - dubbed the Wibbly Wobbly Web by some wag at - developed, it became obvious that corporations were bent on taking it over, and I began to lose my naive enthusiasm. There were, and still are, fears of corporate and governmental control and censorship and intrusion on private lives and conversations. I see all technology simply as tools which can amplify and modify what people do - whoever they may be and whatever their purpose. But this quote from Mills just grabs my mind like those lines from Shelly's poem Ozymandias: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    1. Jim, thanks for your note and your story. The quote from Ozymandias is perfect. The idea that technologies are simply tools is one I disagree with. Tools become a form of embodiment that defines outcomes. I discuss this in more detail in my book.

  2. Hi Doug, congratulations on the publication of your book. I heard you on Ralph Nader's radio program last week. If you make it out to Silicon Valley as part of a book tour, I'd like to invite you to speak at one of my organization's luncheon forums (the Technology and Society Committee meets the second Tuesday of the month, in Mountain View).


    1. Thank you Bob. I'd be happy to meet with your group. Follow me on Twitter and I'll do the same and we can keep in touch.