Fall 2001

Thinking About Technology

George Grant

“We have bought a package deal of far more fundamental novelness than simply a set of instruments under our control. . . . Technology is the ontology of the age.”

In each moment of our waking and sleeping, we are technological civilization. Why is it best to characterize what we are encompassing, and are encompassed by, as technological? The answer can be seen in the very structure of the word. The current use of the word “technology” in North America lays before us the particular novelty of our world.

In distinction from the usage in English of “technology” and “technologies,” the Europeans have generally used “technique” and “techniques,” the former for the whole array of means for making events happen, the latter for the particular means. They have claimed that our usage  confuses  us  by  distorting  the  literal  meaning.  The  word “technology” puts together the Greek word for “art” and the word for the “systematic study” of it, as the word “biology” puts together “bios” and “logos.” They claim our usage parallels a similar imprecision in English in which “history” means both the “study” and “what is studied.”

Nevertheless, although the European usage maintains verbal purity it does not evoke the modern reality as directly as ours. The very American neologism brings before us our novelty. When “technology” is used to describe the actual means of making events happen, and not simply the systematic study of these means, the word reveals to us the fact that these new events happen because we westerners willed to develop a new and unique co-penetration of the arts and sciences, a co-penetration which has never before existed. What is given in the neologism—consciously or not—is the idea that modern civilization is distinguished from all previous civilizations because our activities of knowing and making have been brought together in a way which does not allow the once-clear distinguishing of them. In fact, the coining of the word “technology” catches the novelty of that co-penetration of knowing and making. It also implies that we have brought the sciences and the arts into a new unity in our will to be masters of the earth and beyond.


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1. This text was originally published by George Parkin Grant as “Thinking about Technology,” Technology and Justice (University of Notre Dame Press, 1987), 11-34. Reprinted with permission.