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Kordun Vira Yuriivna, a student of The Institute of Foreign Philology National M.P.Drahomanov Pedagogical University, Kyiv «The future of the humanities in a technological society»



All of us now live in technological world. Technology is not understood as this or that machine, or this or that branch of machinery, but as the entire organized and interdependent ensemble dictating the technicization of everyday life, from politics, economics, and bureaucratic administration to the media, advertising, fast food, transportation, and tourism. In countless ways human rhythms have succumbed to technological rhythms, which we attempt to humanize by such words as user-friendly, though they have a habit of ambushing us, like computer viruses. Technology is above all a use; if you have it, you use it. Today the humanities are under attack from many quarters. Far more students take courses in behavioral psychology to learn about interpersonal relations. A report in the New York Times chronicles the drop in foreign language. Philosophy, English, and religious studies have declined steadily since the 1970s. It is sometimes said that the humanities will survive only as a plaything of technocrats or a mere adornment to life. At best they will be the private delight of the aesthete, the antiquarian, or the bibliophile. Matthew Arnold conceded that the humanities would have to yield their “leading place” in education, though he also believed that they would find it again, that forces in human nature itself were working for them. But Arnold was wrong in his prediction. Not only have the humanities failed to regain their high status in education, but they have slipped even further behind. Today the social sciences had encroached upon the traditional sphere of the humanities, interrogating the very same subjects and issues, claiming that they too could teach students how to lead an ethical, beneficial, and self-fulfilled life. Sociology examined the individual’s relation to the community, once primarily a humanistic question. Psychology and psychoanalysis laid claim to the study of the inner life, another humanistic province. In a similar fashion, the new disciplines of political science, economics, and anthropology proposed to solve problems that had been the sovereign domain of the humanities. Furthermore, Arnold could not have predicted the transformative power of technology. Even Max Weber in the next generation, analyzing the “iron cage” of rationalized modernity, did not gauge the extent to which rationalization would involve the technicization of life.[1,7] Throughout the twentieth century the debate over the role of the humanities has waxed and waned. High points include the reforms at Columbia and the University of Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s and those at Harvard after the Second World War and in the 1970s.With every new plan, the humanities yielded more ground. According to Ellul, modern technology began with the machine, abstracted principles from it, then outstripped it, became independent, and finally turned itself into a political, economic, and social reality. Ellul uses the term technique (la technique), defined as “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage ofdevelopment) in every field of human activity.”[3,31] Technique has five major features. The “prime characteristic”—indeed, the “supreme imperative”—is the principle of least effort or efficient ordering.[2,151] A second feature of technology is self-augmentation: machines keep making more and more machines. A third characteristic of technology is monism.The parts of the system are united in one another and recombine easily because they do not vary in their essentials. Fourth, technique implies universalism. It grows on all sides, across the planet, and into space, and everyone wants it, and more and more of it, from the richest to the poorest peoples.Autonomy, the fifth characteristic of the paradigm, is the most controversial element because it is shadowed by fears that “somehow technology has gotten out of control and follows its own course, independent of human direction.”[3,33] No one doubts that technology saves lives and cuts down on drudgery, though not on work. The real moral problem of the system is that everything is situated in relation to it so that ultimately all choices become technological ones. One of the most effective ways that technique communicates is by images. An avalanche of images from morning to night, via television, film, computer, and the rest of the mass media, have smothered the humanities, not to mention literary culture.

Instead of reading a book, children and teenagers prefer to play video games because it is easier, more immediate, “more fun”. Video games, so full of rules and operative procedures, and so relatively contentless, adapt the young not only to the physical apparatus but also to the formalisms and methods of technological society.Let it be granted that images can convey certain forms of knowledge quickly

and easily—chiefly, scientific knowledge, which is today the model of knowledge. In some fields a picture is worth a thousand words; science and social science require sketches and diagrams since many of their propositions cannot be expressed in words. Today, by conservative estimates, the average person watches television three hours a day, which amounts to about 40 percent of leisure time. We have gone from being joiners to being viewers. The decline in language studies affects much more than the reading of literature. Has anyone noticed how difficult it is to convince people by a solid argument, an argument constructed on the logic and rhetoric of forensic discourse? Few people can interpret it, appreciate it, and hence listen to it. Such language is becoming pointless. Although perhaps it cannot be proved, some hidden connection exists between the ahistoricism of the technological system and the utter lack of interest in memory as an educational value. Memory has become old-fashioned. But without the experience of literary language and the power of memory to retain it, interiority loses one of its best means of development.

In 1930 C. K. Ogden proposed his Basic English as an international second language. This was based on 850 key words and simple grammatical patterns designed to give foreigners quick access to everything touched by English. Basic English was part of the global spread of English, an event that one must link to the technological principle of the one best means or least effort. English was the first language of telecommunications, aviation, modern science, and international business.When computers needed a kind of algebraic language to communicate on the information superhighways, it turned to something that resembled Basic English.[3,38]

Some critics are optimistic about the future of technology and culture. Anthony Smith dreams of the combined results of video on demand and virtual reality. To ponder the question “Is a technical culture possible?” one may invoke the old distinction between culture and civilization. To be certain, technology can give us a material civilization. It is rightly pointed out that in the future people will want two things above all, entertainment and health care, that is, endless play and the longevity to enjoy it. But technology cannot give us a culture because of what it is doing to language—to literary language and symbolism, with their deep roots in the historical, cultural, and religious past.

Lewis Mumford believes that a technical elite will produce a “uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation. Instead of functioning actively as an autonomous personality, man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal whose proper functions, as technicians now interpret man’s role, will either be fed into the machine or strictly limited and controlled for the benefit of de-personalized, collective organizations.” Still, Mumford sees a ray of hope: “The next move is ours: the gates of the technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty ancient hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out.” [3,41] What does Ellul recommend? A clear look at the facts without a mystification of technology; personal self-transformation in religious terms; the promotion of anything that tends to oppose technological values: play, diversity, pluralism, and habits of anticonsumption. Protest in sufficient numbers, a policy of lowered consumption—these just might effect some change.[3,42]



1.Andrew Feenberg, Critical Theory of Technology ,New York: Oxford University Press, 1991

2.Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word, trans. Joyce Main Hanks, Grand Rapids, 1985

3.John Paul Russo, The funure without a past, Columbia:University of Missouri Press, 2005



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