Virtuosity and Stability in Technology

Posted: December 27, 2013 at 9:03 am

I was trained in fine arts with liberal studies in philosophy. While I’ve always (as long as I can remember) been negotiating with media and technology I was never formally trained (indoctrinated?) by a hard objectivist discipline (like physics). It has always been clear to me (from critical theory and feminism) that the world we know is a world constructed by both reality, and our own desires and expectations.

I certainly don’t identify myself as a transhumanist (of any type), because I think that the major feature of humanity is our ability to abstract away from details to execute complex actions where much detail (what we are actually doing) becomes unconscious and implicit. The fusion of technology, culture and life pushed by transhumanists has actually always been the status quo. We have no choice but to internalize and abstract when we learn to use tools, our thoughts have been shaped by tools for as long as we have made them. The ability to use tools and abstract is not unique to humans; I think non-human animals can do the same, just not to the same extent. This internalization and our ability to use the abstraction in place of the details makes us susceptible to perceiving our expectations over sensorial reality. What we expect, and the abstractions (concepts) themselves are a function of our culture. We see the world through our tools: the media is the message.

Our culture is then central to how we construct and perceive the world (and ourselves). All that technology does is reflect our cultural values, and often a small culture of innovators. In order to develop our technology, we need to consciously look first at our culture and values. The primary site of developing/criticizing/integrating technology should be culturally aware. If technology is a reflection of culture, then there is no strict divide.

Of course there is no single monolithic culture, we have many different values, languages and ways of looking at the world. Our technology should reflect this diversity, rather than being a reflection of (only) western-world, privileged, educated and even Utopian culture where everything can be solved with novel technology. My main criticism of this culture is the constant obsession with “progress”, which to some degree implies the ever increasing consumption of resources.

We can only be virtuosic in stable contexts, because it takes many years to gain the experience to be virtuosic. Perhaps we can think of virtuosity as the ability to operate a technology, in relation to culture at multiple levels of abstraction, simultaneously. If our technology keeps changing so drastically and so quickly, we’re missing out on really exploiting those technologies, because by the time we’re really good at using them (making culture with them), they are already obsolete. So if culture is the root of technology, then we should be aiming for stability, not progress. We should not be aiming to improve the quality of life (QOL) of everyone, we should determine a stable and sustainable QOL than we can all have. That means bringing up the QOL for some, but also likely pushing down the QOL of others, in particular us privileged, educated first world citizens that are pushing progress.

Should our future be based on modernist ideals that say we can all have everything we want, or should we grow up and consider that for us to have a future, we may need to be content with less, and not more?