From the very beginnings of their existence, human beings have
distinguished themselves from other animals by not taking immediate
experience for granted. Everything was symbolized according to its
meaning and value: a fallen branch from a tree became a lever; a
tree trunk floating in the river became a canoe. "Homo logos"
created communities based on cultures: humanity's first
Further symbolization of the human community and its relation to
nature led to the possibility of creating societies and
civilizations. Everything changed as these interposed themselves
between the group and nature. "Homo societas" created ways of life
able to give meaning, direction, and purpose to many groups by
means of very different cultures: humanity's second
What "Das Kapital" did for the nineteenth century and "La
technique" did for the twentieth, Willem H. Vanderburg's"Living in
the Labyrinth of Technology" seeks to create for the twenty-first
century: an attempt at understanding the world in a manner not
shackled to overspecialized scientific knowing and technical doing.
Western civilization may well be creating humanity's third
megaproject, based not on symbolization for making sense of and
living in the world, but on highly specialized desymbolized knowing
stripped of all peripheral understanding.
Vanderburg focuses on two interdependent forces in his
narrative, namely, people changing technology and technology
changing people. The latter aspect, although rarely considered,
turns out to be the more critical one for understanding the
spectacular successes and failures of contemporary ways of life. As
technology continues to change the social and physical world, the
experiences of this world 'grow' people's minds and society's
cultures, thereby re-creating human life in the image of
technology. "Living in the Labyrinth of Technology" argues that the
twenty-first century will be dominated by this pattern unless
society intervenes on human (as opposed to technical) terms.
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