Technology promises to accomplish the same things that have always been done more efficiently. Borgmann is skeptical ( Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry ) (45-46), and he summarizes George Sturt’s The Wheelwright’s Shop (Craftsman) to explain the notion of the “concealment” of technology, the fact that technology not only increases efficiency but transforms the work done.

Traditional wheelwright’s like Sturt were attentive to the ripening and seasoning of the wood to be used for their wheels. Once machinery was introduced, such attentiveness was no longer necessary; wood could be cut and used any time, even at what Sturt calls the “wrong time.” The materials no longer posed any resistance, since mechanical power could (in Sturt’s words) “drive, with relentless unintelligence, through every resistance.”

Skills necessary for wheel-making became superfluous, and the work therefore became “less interesting to the workmen though far more sure in its results.” Sturt thinks it was a loss for the men, who no longer felt the “satisfaction of old - until machinery made drudges of them - streamed into their muscles all day long from close contact with iron, timber, clay, wind and wave, horse-strength.”

Borgmann is careful in making judgments about these changes, but he makes the fact of change abundantly clear, and the fact that some of the most important changes were concealed, too subtle to be noticed except by the ones most directly affected by new technologies.

 

More on: History, Science

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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